Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., confirms plans in Chesterfield, Mo., on Aug. 24 to stay in the U.S. Senate race.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., confirms plans in Chesterfield, Mo., on Aug. 24 to stay in the U.S. Senate race. Sid Hastings/AP
Many people in Missouri are still backing GOP Rep. Todd Akin — some more strongly than before — after his controversial remarks about rape and pregnancy.
Akin was polling ahead of the incumbent, Democrat Claire McCaskill, in the U.S. Senate race in Missouri, but his support fractured into several distinct camps after his comment that women's bodies can block pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." (He has since apologized.)
At a fireworks show promoted by a conservative Christian radio station in downtown Kansas City, Mo., Mary Bennett says she's been watching the firestorm over Akin.
"I've never been a real fan of McCaskill, so when Akin came in, I was kind of looking at him, goin', you know, he's a conservative, he's not going to maybe overspend, let's keep an eye on him.
"But, you know, he really made himself look really stupid."
She says it's pushed her into the "undecided" column. She says she's lost faith in Akin's judgment, and she's not the only one.
"I frankly think that he's very out of touch," says Gina Townley.
Townley says her mother is a rape survivor, so Akin's comments touched a nerve.
"I wish women didn't get pregnant from rape, but that's just not the way it works," she says.
Abortion, however, is not Townley's top issue. She's among those backing Akin despite reservations.
"I support a conservative government," she says. "So if a Republican candidate fits that bill, then I will be leaning towards that candidate."
The GOP establishment really wants that candidate to be somebody other than Akin, and continues to pressure him to withdraw from the race. This race is key to their plan to take over the Senate, which is now controlled by Democrats. Political groups invested millions blasting McCaskill, the incumbent, with negative ads, and victory seemed at hand.
Susie Spalty says Akin blew it and should step aside, but if he doesn't "it's going to be really hard, but I'd vote for him if he stayed in the race. I would almost vote for Alfred E. Newman."
None of this surprises George Connor, who teaches Political Science at Missouri State University.
"It is very difficult for me to see someone who was supporting Congressman Akin jumping ship to Claire McCaskill because they diverge on so many other issues," he says.
The two candidates differ on everything from abortion to funding for school lunches.
Akin has sunk substantially in the polls, especially among independents, but Connor says that what Akin loses in the middle of the political spectrum, he may gain on the right.
"Ultimately, I think this controversy will help Congressman Akin more than it hurts him," he says.
The controversy has rallied some of Akin's strongest supporters.
At a veterans benefit in Kansas City, Myrna Meinke says the controversy over Akin has revved-up her rebellious streak.
"It actually made me angry," she says. "I'm just tired of a group of elites always telling the average citizen what to think, and who to vote for.
"It was overblown. I thought it was ridiculous, and no, I still support him."
Akin claims hundreds of new contributors. Todd Hill says he voted against Akin in the GOP primary, but is with him now.
"It solidified my support for him," Hill says. "I am much stronger for Akin now than I was before, because he stands up for what he believes in."
Akin has been raising money. He'll need it. The Republican National Committee says it won't spend a dime to help him. But conservative political organizations may be another story: They still have millions of dollars worth of TV airtime reserved to renew the campaign, when the time is right.