WASHINGTON -- As GOP candidate Todd Akin continued to defy his party’s leadership to campaign for the Missouri Senate, rank-and-file Republicans intensified calls for him to step aside and tea party groups began drafting replacement candidates amid worries his “legitimate rape” comments are defining the Republican Party.
Akin shows little signs of relenting before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. Central Time deadline in Missouri to withdraw from the ballot. The Akin campaign produced a new ad, touted overnight polling in his favor and pledged in a fundraising appeal that he was working to defeat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
“I’m in this race to the end!” Akin said.
The ramifications of the Missouri congressman’s candidacy could be broad, especially among women and independent voters who are the most sought-after this election cycle.
Democrats have already dubbed the anti-abortion provision in the emerging GOP platform the “Akin plank,” as the draft being written Tuesday by party leaders in Tampa, Fla., declined to include exceptions for cases of rape or incest, as The Times reported.
And as more Republican candidates are asked if they share Akin’s views, the reaction reveals that the six-term Missouri congressman is not alone in the anti-abortion flank of the party.
Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a leading conservative and abortion foe who is in a tight re-election battle, told a local television station he was unfamiliar with pregnancies resulting from statutory rape.
“I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” said King on a Monday interview with KMEG-TV. “And I’d be open to a discussion about that subject matter.”
Republican senators who fear that their party’s chances of taking the majority in the chamber could be damaged by an Akin candidacy urged him to step aside.
“Akin’s comments are totally offensive,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), a rising party leader, said in a tweet. “Akin should step aside now.”
Missouri’s Republican senators past and present issued a joint statement urging Akin to withdraw. “We do not believe it serves the national interest for Congressman Todd Akin to stay in this race,” said the letter from Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt as well as past Republican senators -- John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, John Danforth and Jim Talent.
“The issues at stake are too big, and this election is simply too important. The right decision is to step aside.”
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R- Maine) called Akin’s comments “repugnant” and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said they were “offensive,” as both called for him to step aside.
Missouri had been the GOP’s top chance to defeat an incumbent Democratic senator as they seek the three or four seats needed to gain majority control of the chamber.
The tea party group FreedomWorks PAC launched an effort to draft John Brunner, the millionaire GOP businessman who narrowly lost to Akin in a brutal three-way primary earlier this month. “Congressman Akin does not speak for the limited-government movement, and should remove himself from the political arena as swiftly as possible,” said FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe. “We are asking our members in Missouri and around the country to encourage Congressman Akin to bow out of the race as well.”
Other party strategists have suggested seeking out new candidates beyond Brunner or the other primary contestant, Sarah Steelman, the Sarah Palin-backed former Missouri state treasurer.
One sought-after candidate, Talent, who lost to McCaskill in 2006, said Monday he would decline a nomination.
Akin touched off a political firestorm over the weekend when he explained his strict opposition to abortion by saying that pregnancies resulting from rape are “really rare.”
The Missouri congressman said that women’s bodies have a way of shutting down from the trauma of “legitimate rape” that prevents pregnancy, a view shared by some in the conservative anti-abortion movement.
A poll taken Monday night by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling had Akin leading McCaskill 44-43, virtually unchanged from previous polling, even though 75% of voters called Akin’s comments “inappropriate.”
“Todd Akin still has a very decent chance at winning the Missouri Senate race,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. “Voters were appalled by his comments about abortion, but not so much that they decided to vote Democratic when they were previously planning to support the GOP. This looks like it will be a closely contested race if Akin stays in.”
Election rules in Missouri give candidates until 5 p.m. Tuesday to withdraw from the race. After that, a court order would be needed to withdraw, no later than Sept. 25. In both cases, the state GOP would choose a successor candidate.
Akin’s camp appears at this moment to be banking on that later deadline. Even as supporters pulled promised ads, with a little over $500,000 cash on hand in Akin’s account he could campaign on his own for some time.