A deadline for dropping out of Missouri’s U.S. Senate race passed Tuesday with Republican Todd Akin still in the hunt, despite more withering attacks from his own party.
“Let me just make it clear: We’re not getting out of this race,” Akin said on a St. Louis radio show. “I’m in this for the long haul, and we’re going to win it.”
The unprecedented onslaught spurred by his weekend comments about rape victims came from the highest reaches of the Republican Party and raised new doubts about whether Akin’s campaign could recover.
Even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney called for Akin to withdraw. So did U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri’s highest elected Republican, and four former senators from Missouri: John Ashcroft, Jack Danforth, Kit Bond and Jim Talent.
Major GOP fundraisers, including Crossroads GPS, pledged again to abandon Akin’s campaign. So did the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. And top party officials asked Akin not to attend next week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
But through it all, Akin held firm, blaming his fall from party grace on “one word in one sentence on one day.” That, he said, was a reference to his use of the word “legitimate” in response to a TV interviewer’s question Sunday about whether he supports abortion even in cases of rape.
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said that day in comments that triggered a national firestorm. He later said he misspoke and apologized.
But Akin didn’t comment Tuesday on the “female body has ways to shut that whole thing down” part of his statement, which was widely debunked by women’s groups in Missouri and nationwide.
Romney attempted to distance himself for the second straight day from the remarks that the Republican Party fears could further weaken its standing with women.
“Todd Akin’s comments were offensive and wrong, and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,” Romney said. “Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”
The group of Missouri’s Republican senators — current and former — were just as direct, saying Akin’s comments about rape victims were “totally unacceptable” and that Akin must step down.
“We do not believe it serves the national interest for Congressman Todd Akin to stay in this race,” they said in a statement. “The issues at stake are too big, and this election is simply too important. The right decision is to step aside.”
No less than control of the U.S. Senate could hang in the balance. Many political observers maintain that Republicans must oust Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in November to have a shot at retaking the chamber they last held in 2007.
But Akin ignored a 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday that marked the last time he could withdraw without involving the courts.
He can still step down before Sept. 25, state officials said, but he would then have to ask a court to order the state to remove his name from the ballot. His campaign, or presumably the state party, would still be liable for covering the cost of reprinting any ballots with his name on them.
Missouri law states that the court issues a removal order. Some Democrats said if Akin withdraws, they might challenge him in court to further confuse matters for the GOP, which would pick a replacement to run against McCaskill.
After Tuesday’s deadline passed, a McCaskill spokesman said that the choice between Akin and McCaskill “is stark, and Missouri voters will get to decide who will be on their side in the U.S. Senate.”
Democrats also branded the GOP plank on abortion that was adopted Tuesday in Tampa as the “Akin plank.” The plank, as it has since 2004, declares support for a constitutional amendment establishing that human life begins at conception.
A new SurveyUSA poll Tuesday determined that 54 percent of Missourians think Akin should drop out of the race.
But not all of the day’s developments were bad news for Akin, a six-term congressman from the St. Louis area. The Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling released a new survey that showed Akin leading McCaskill, but by a single point — 44-43 percent — a finding that Akin said showed that he was remaining competitive, despite all the negative attention.
Meanwhile, Akin, who declined to comment for this story, released a new TV ad that showed him looking directly into the camera and asking voters for forgiveness.
“Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize,” he says in the spot. “I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault.”
He also rebuffed his own remark in the TV interview by saying in the ad, “The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The mistake I made is in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”
Some Republicans acknowledged that the direct, eyes-on-the-camera ad was effective. And for the first time several conservative Republicans stepped forward to support Akin.
“Todd Akin is a strong Christian man with a wonderful family,” U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa told a TV station. “I think this election should be about how did Todd Akin vote, and what did he vote for, what did he stand for. And in this case I’m seeing the same thing — petty personal attacks substituting for strong policy.”
Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the St. Louis-based Eagle Forum, said of Akin: “He’s not for rape. That’s ridiculous. They’re making a big thing about an unfortunate remark.”
In eastern Jackson County at Truman Road and Missouri 291, supporter Ellen Bishop of Buckner on Tuesday removed a pair of 4-by-8 foot Akin campaign signs that had been vandalized prior to the candidate’s controversial remarks. She pledged to return them in late September or early October. She said she’s standing by Akin, but is unhappy with the Republican Party for abandoning him.
“I’m discouraged by the Republican Party’s response because anyone who knows Todd Akin knows that at no point did he say rape was lawful in some way,” Bishop said. “The man has represented our state for 12 years. You can’t choose a better guy to come up against the McCaskill-Obama team.”
By day’s end, however, not one prominent GOP elected official in Missouri had stepped forward to defend Akin, and some Republicans said privately that the continuing focus on Akin is distracting Republicans from what they want to focus on — the economy, the lack of jobs and President Barack Obama’s performance in office.
Democratic operatives were keeping a tally of which Republicans had denounced Akin, and which had yet to do so.
Political observers around Missouri, and even the head of the Republican National Committee, continued to express doubt about whether Akin can mount an effective campaign. Although several pointed out the race remains close — and might be all the way through Election Day — the long-term prospects for Akin’s campaign were dubious.
They said he likely will have little money, he’ll be shunned by Republican office-holders and removing the spotlight from his controversial rape remarks will be difficult, if not impossible.
“He’ll be a huge underdog going into the general election,” said Dave Robertson, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “I would say he’s damaged goods.”
James Staab, a political scientist at the University of Central Missouri, added, “It’s going to be very difficult to turn it around.”
On CNN, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, admitted Akin will struggle to beat McCaskill without much money.
“I mean, we’re not going to send any money toward that race or spend money on the ground in that particular race,” Priebus said. “I’ve already called off the phone banks and all of the volunteers for Congressman Akin’s race there.”
But former Missouri GOP chairman Woody Cozad countered that no race 10 weeks before Election Day is over.
“Nothing’s beyond repair,” Cozad said. “He is not damaged beyond repair because that’s hard to do in American politics. Claire McCaskill is damaged goods.”
Carl Bearden, a former state lawmaker who now heads the conservative lobbying group United for Missouri, said Akin can survive if he can get through the next few weeks.
“The key is to keep focused on the economy and why Missouri is not being well served by Senator McCaskill supporting the Obama agenda.
“His problem will be if the money really does dry up, how does he get his message out?”