ST. LOUIS – Rep. Todd Akin fought to salvage his Senate campaign Monday, even as members of his own party turned against him and a key source of campaign funding was cut off in outrage over the Missouri congressman’s comments that women are able to prevent pregnancies in cases of “legitimate rape.”
Akin made no public appearances but went on former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s national radio show to apologize. He vowed to continue his bid for higher office.
“The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I’m not a quitter,” Akin said. “To quote my old friend John Paul Jones, ‘I have not yet begun to fight.’”
But Akin seemed to be losing political support by the hour as fellow Republicans urged him to abandon a race the party had long considered essential in their bid to regain control of the Senate. Incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill is seen as vulnerable in public opinion polls and because she has been a close ally of President Barack Obama.
An official with the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee said the group’s head, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, called Akin on Monday to tell him that the committee had withdrawn $5 million in advertising planned for the Missouri race. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.
At least one outside group that has pounded McCaskill with ads, the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads organization, also pulled its ads from Missouri.
Publicly, Cornyn called Akin’s comments “indefensible” and suggested he take 24 hours to consider “what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party and the values that he cares about and has fought for.”
The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Akin’s remarks about rape may “prevent him from effectively representing” the Republican Party.
Two other Republican senators – Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin – urged Akin to step aside from the Senate race.
Brown, who is locked in a tight race with Democrat Elizabeth Warren, said Akin’s comments were “outrageous, inappropriate and wrong.”
Johnson called Akin’s statements “reprehensible and inexcusable,” and urged Akin to withdraw “so Missouri Republicans can put forth a candidate that can win in November.”
Akin also got a swift rebuke from the campaign of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Romney and Ryan “disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.
“Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive,” Romney said in an interview with National Review Online.
The furor began Sunday in an interview on KTVI-TV in St. Louis. Asked if he would support abortions for women who have been raped, Akin said: “It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Later Sunday, Akin released a statement saying that he “misspoke.” But the fallout was swift and severe.
During the somber interview on Huckabee’s program, Akin apologized repeatedly, saying he made “serious mistakes” in his comments on KTVI.
“Rape is never legitimate. It’s an evil act. It’s committed by violent predators,” Akin said. “I used the wrong words the wrong way.” He later made a similar apology in an appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio show.
President Barack Obama said Akin’s comments underscore why politicians – most of whom are men – should not make health decisions on behalf of women.
“Rape is rape,” Obama said. And the idea of distinguishing among types of rape “doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me.”
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said a woman who is raped “has no control over ovulation, fertilization or implantation of a fertilized egg. ... To suggest otherwise contradicts basic biological truths.”
Between 10,000 and 15,000 abortions occur each year nationwide among women whose pregnancies resulted from rape or incest. An unknown number of babies are born to rape victims, the group said.
Research on the prevalence of rape-related pregnancies is spotty. One estimate published in 1996 said about 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy, or about 32,000 pregnancies among adult women each year.
McCaskill was ready to move on, saying Akin should not be forced out of the race.
“What’s startling to me is that (Republican) party bigwigs are coming down on him and saying that he needs to kick sand in the face of all the primary voters,” McCaskill said Monday at a campaign event in suburban St. Louis.
“I want Missourians to make a choice in this election based on policy, not backroom politics.”
The McCaskill campaign seemed to favor a matchup against Akin. McCaskill ran statewide TV ads during the primaries painting Akin as too conservative even for Missouri. She also ran ads against his GOP rivals.
The Akin ads served two purposes for McCaskill: boosting Akin among the more conservative Republican primary voters to help get him nominated and raising questions about him among moderates and liberals.
Akin won the state’s Republican Senate primary just two weeks ago by a comfortable margin over millionaire businessman John Brunner and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. Many considered him a favorite to beat McCaskill in November.
Experts say the rape comments were a game-changer.
“He may in fact have mortally wounded himself,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. “This is a statement that is so crude and so offensive to more than half the electorate that there’s a real danger here that he has dealt himself out of this race.”
University of Missouri political scientist Peverill Squire said Akin’s comments could particularly hurt him among suburban voters, where Republicans have done well in recent elections and “where McCaskill really does need to pick up some votes to stay in office. This certainly gives her an opening.”
Ushering Akin from the race is complicated by the fact that he has never been a candidate beholden to the party establishment. Since being elected to Congress in 2000, Akin has relied on a grassroots network of supporters. His Senate campaign is being run by his son.
Missouri election law allows candidates to withdraw 11 weeks before Election Day. That means the deadline for the Nov. 6 election would be 5 p.m. Tuesday. Otherwise, a court order would be needed to remove a candidate’s name from the ballot.
If Akin were to leave, state law gives the Republican state committee two weeks to name a replacement. The candidate would be required to file within 28 days of Akin’s exit.
If Akin gets out, attention turns to Brunner and Steelman, but other possibilities include Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, whom Republicans unsuccessfully tried to draft into the race earlier this year; former Sen. Jim Talent; and two members of Missouri’s House delegation, Blaine Luetkemeyer and Jo Ann Emerson.
Talent, who lost his seat to McCaskill in 2006, said Monday he had been asked to run but replied: “I’m not running for the Senate.”
“I’m totally ruling it out,” Talent said in Tampa, Fla.
Akin, a former state lawmaker who was first elected to the House in 2000, has a long-established base among evangelical Christians. He has been an outspoken abortion opponent, and his campaign website proudly points out that he is listed among Planned Parenthood’s “Toxic Ten” legislators.
Associated Press writers Henry Jackson in Washington; Jim Suhr in St. Louis; Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo.; Lindsey Tanner in Chicago; and Tamara Lush in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.