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Government, Politics & Issues

With deadline passed, Akin insists he is staying in race

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 21, 2012 - U.S. Rep. Todd Akin said once again he would continue with his U.S. Senate candidacy — despite a growing chorus of influential Republicans demanding that he shut down his bid against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill because of his remark about "legitimate rape."

And Tuesday evening, his campaign sent out a fundraising appeal from his wife, Lulli Akin. "My husband is a man of principle and courage. He’s a great husband and a wonderful father to our daughters and sons, but he’s not perfect," she says in the email request for campaign donations. "He made a mistake and he apologized for it. Now we need to move forward and defeat Claire McCaskill. Todd is 100 percent pro-life, Claire is 100 percent pro-abortion."

Akin also fired off a series of late-night Tweets, including one that declared "lot of negativity has been driven my way by the liberal elite. Makes me even more thankful for your support."

He offered up a similar message on Wednesday morning talk shows. 

Akin — who had issued several messages about his intentions — repeated Tuesday afternoon on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s radio show that he would not back down from challenging McCaskill, D-Mo. Akin told Huckabee, who had prominently endorsed the congressman during a three-way primary, that “we are going to continue with this campaign.”

“Our campaign in the past was defined by the fact that we stood on principle and we acted with courage,” Akin told Huckabee. “And in my case, I believe as I took a look at this race, that what we’re doing here is standing on a principle on what America is. I believe this is the right thing for me to do. And I will be able to add to the message that’s being neglected in some circles by the Republican Party.”

Akin, who appeared on several other radio shows on Tuesday, stuck to his word and did not withdraw by a 5 p.m. statutory deadline, in which he could drop out without penalty.

If Akin were to change his mind afterwards, he would have until Sept. 25 to get a court order to remove himself as a candidate. He would then have to pick up the costs of replacing the ballots, although a spokeswoman from the secretary of state's office was unable to provide a cost estimate for such a move.

Minutes before he appeared on Huckabee’s show, a joint statement from U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. and former Republican U.S. Sens. John Ashcroft, Jim Talent, Kit Bond and John Danforth demanded that Akin stand down.

“We do not believe it serves the national interest for Congressman Todd Akin to stay in this race,” the statement said. “The issues at stake are too big, and this election is simply too important. The right decision is to step aside.”

Mid-afternoon Tuesday, the senators' message was underscored by Mitt Romney, the presumed GOP presidential nominee, who urged Akin to drop out, according to a report on CNN.

"As I said yesterday, 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," said Romney. "Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race."

Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, called Akin on Monday to personally ask him to drop out.

Akin spokesman Ryan Hite said that the congressman was in Ohio Monday and most of Tuesday filming his ad and consulting with campaign advisers.

(Update) Akin returned to St. Louis Tuesday night and was met by TV cameras at the airport. (End of update)

Hite reiterated what Akin had said on several talk shows, that “this is a time for problem-solving, not the time for party politics.” 

Akin sparked a national firestorm earlier this week when he told KTVI’s Charles Jaco that pregnancies rarely result from "legitimate rape" and that the female body could "shut down" a pregnancy. While Akin apologized on Huckabee's show and some other conservative outlets, that did not stop condemnation from national political figures such as President Barack Obama and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, as well as statewide officials such as state Auditor Tom Schweich.

Some prominent funders of Republican campaigns — such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Crossroads GPS — have pulled out the Missouri Senate contest.

But a somewhat combative Akin told Huckabee that his fellow Republicans were overstepping their bounds with their reaction.

“It does just seem I misspoke one word in one sentence on one day,” Akin said. “I hadn’t done anything that was morally or ethically wrong as sometimes people in politics do. We do a lot of talking. And you get in a word in the wrong place, that’s not a good thing to do or hurt anybody that way. But it does seem like an overreaction.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee said in a statement that Akin's decision to stay in the race would have consequences: "If he continues with this misguided campaign, it will be without the support and resources of the NRSC.”

“This is undoubtedly a difficult time for Congressman Akin, but the stakes in this election are far bigger than any one individual," the organization said in a statement. "By staying in this race, Congressman Akin is putting at great risk many of the issues that he and others in the Republican Party are fighting ... It should not be lost on anyone that some of the only voices not calling for Congressman Akin to do the right thing and step aside are Claire McCaskill and the leaders of the pro-abortion movement."

Akin’s remarks to Jaco about "legitimate rape" followed a raft of provocative statements on the heels of his primary victory. He had supported banning the morning-after pill and ending the federal government's involvement in school lunch programs. He was even mocked on the Colbert Report for suggesting that the direct election of senators, the 17th Amendment, should be repealed.

But Akin’s remark about the prospects of pregnancy resulting from rape was particularly jarring, although it does reflect the views of some abortion opponents, going back decades. Akin's assertion — that pregnancies rarely result from rape and that the female body could "shut down" a pregnancy — has been roundly condemned by medical experts as inaccurate.

The phrase “legitimate rape” also was seen as insensitive to rape victims and their loved ones, by implying that some rapes were "illegitimate."

Akin did receive a supportive missive from the Missouri Republican Assembly, a Show Me State conservative organization. The unsigned statement said, "The Republican leadership needs to grow a spine and disallow the Democrats, who always support their candidates even when they are wrong, to dictate our stance."

"Todd can win despite this misstep," the statement said. "All Republicans will lose if they continue throwing their candidates under the bus because of a poor word choice. This is the first out, of the first inning in a long three months with many Democrat directed issues ahead."

Unprecedented statement

In some ways, Akin’s continued defiance isn’t surprising. Before his announcement on Huckabee’s show, Akin telegraphed his intentions by releasing a statement, a fundraising appeal and a television advertisement apologizing for the comments.

What has been surprising is the chorus of Republican voices urging Akin to step down. Perhaps none was more unprecedented than the statement from the state’s past and present Republican U.S. senators. Rarely have such senior members of the state's party so admonished a top-of-the-ticket candidate.

Sources told Beacon Washington Correspondent Robert Koenig that Blunt, who had not publicly supported any candidate in the GOP primary, spoke with Akin "several times" after the story broke in an effort to convince him to step aside.

Blunt also talked with Bond, Ashcroft, Talent and Danforth and took the lead in negotiating the joint statement that the current former U.S. senators issued Tuesday.

Blunt, the fifth-ranking Senate GOP leader, also had a voice in the Senate GOP leadership and NRSC position that Akin should consider stepping aside for the good of the party — especially the potential for Republicans picking up a Senate majority after the November election.

On Monday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a statement urging Akin to "take time with his family to consider whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in this critical election."

Blunt did not have an immediate comment after Akin announced he planned to stay in the race.

(Start update) The dean of Missouri's delegation in Congress, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, harshly criticized Akin on Tuesday but stopped short of calling for him to step aside.

"Todd Akin made a reprehensible, inexcusable and dangerous comment," said Emerson in a statement. "He was wrong to say what he did about rape, and the ignorance of that view has no place in our party, in our culture or in our country."

Emerson, along with several other current and former elected officials, has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Akin if he bows out. (End update)

In an interview with the Beacon, Danforth said the statement came together after a series of phone calls. He said it was “doubtful” that the statement from the present and former senators put out “would do any good.”

“I think it’s important for Republicans that the Republican Party distance itself from Congressman Akin’s statement,” Danforth said. “I think we’ve just got to put as far a distance as we can.”

Danforth said Akin’s comments had diverted discussion away from issues, such as the economy and the national debt.

“What Congressman Akin’s statement did is get us into a massive diversion from what we have to be presenting to the people of our state and the people of our country in very clear fashion,” Danforth said. “Sixteen trillion dollars of debt is not an easy problem to solve. There’s no popular way to do it. It’s going to take serious consideration and serious thought by our public in the two and a half months ahead.

“And this has got us going into a side issue which is, to say the least, strange,” Danforth added. “It’s very unfortunate.”

Not only has Akin’s statement brought increased focus on Missouri’s Senate contest, but it’s also showcased the Republican Party’s position on abortion. Others have pointed out that Akin and GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan cosponsored the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which was criticized for aiming to deny Medicaid funding for abortions, for instance, in the cases of statutory rape.

Danforth said such discussion is evidence of how damaging Akin’s statement was for the party.

“First of all, the question of abortion is a political issue — it has been since 1973,” Danforth said. “This is not a new question. But the question of what of the $16 trillion debt and future of programs like Medicare and Social Security, those are urgent questions. These must be resolved. And we must focus on them. And then the gloss that Congressman Akin put on the abortion issue was so strange.”

Akin and Danforth are not allies. In fact, Akin had criticized Danforth during the GOP primary campaign. Danforth said he didn’t try to call Akin personally, adding “I don’t think that would have done any good at all.”

But Danforth was blunt in his assessment of Akin’s chances of victory.

“Do I think that it’s possible for him to be elected to the Senate? No. I do not think that’s possible,” Danforth said.

Beacon Washington correspondent Robert Koenig and Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies contributed information to this story.

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