GOP Reassess Akin After 'Legitimate Rape' Comments

Now that Missouri Republican Todd Akin is not dropping out of the Senate race against incumbent Claire McCaskill, the GOP is rethinking how distant it wants to remain from him. Akin became toxic for remarks about "legitimate rape" — but the GOP Senate map nationwide is looking increasingly grim.

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Republicans hoping to win control of the Senate have a dilemma after Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's comments about, quote, "legitimate rape." Most GOP groups quickly distanced themselves and vowed not to contribute to his race. But NPR's Brian Naylor reports now that Akin has refused to drop out, Republican leaders are reconsidering their stand.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Republican Party leaders tried to force Akin out of the race. His campaign funding dried up. But Akin has defied the GOP establishment. Tuesday was his last chance to take his name off the ballot, and now Republicans are reassessing their position. The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a statement yesterday calling Akin, quote, "far more preferable than liberal Senator Claire McCaskill," adding, "we will continue to monitor this race closely in the days ahead." The NRSC didn't return NPR's calls. Conservative stalwarts like Senator Jim DeMint and Rick Santorum have endorsed Akin, and DeMint's political action fund is polling its members to see whether they would support donating to Akin's campaign.

Former speaker Newt Gingrich held a fundraiser for Akin earlier this week. University of Missouri political science Professor Peverill Squire says Republicans are in a difficult position.

PEVERILL SQUIRE: I think if they do come in with money for Akin then that ties them to the legitimate rape comments in a way that they might want to avoid. It makes them sort of take ownership of that and gives the Democrats an opportunity to link other Republican candidates to Akin's comments.

NAYLOR: And in fact, Democrats are doing just that. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a statement in the high profile Massachusetts Senate race between incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. It calls on Brown to refund the campaign contributions he's received from the Republican committee and says, quote, "a vote for Brown is a vote for Todd Akin's extreme views." Guy Cecil is the executive director of the Democratic committee.

GUY CECIL: I think it's a telling sign of where they are in the overall race for the majority that they're now reconsidering a person that they said was unacceptable. They've really put themselves in a box on this issue.

NAYLOR: The reason Republicans are reconsidering their support for Akin comes down to math. It's looking harder and harder for the GOP to win Senate control. In Ohio and Florida, polls now show Democrats with clear leads. Brown now trails Warren in Massachusetts and races in Indiana and North Dakota are closer than expected. Whereas in Missouri, despite Akin's misstep and an apology, he still trails McCaskill by just single digits. McCaskill has started mentioning Akin's comment in her ads.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And on August 19, Todd Akin said only some rapes are legitimate. What will he say next?

NAYLOR: And as if to answer that question, Akin told reporters today that in McCaskill's first race in 2006, she was, in his words, much more ladylike. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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