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How much can one comment transform an election? In Missouri, Republican Todd Akin is proceeding with his campaign for the U.S. Senate, but now without the financial backing or support of party leaders. That's after remarks about what he called legitimate rape. And Republicans nationwide are facing different electoral math as they try to win back the Senate without counting on Missouri. More on the national picture in a few minutes.
First, NPR's Brian Naylor tells us about Akin's path forward.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Todd Akin, who had limited his appearances this week to conservative media outlets, went mainstream today. Hours after a deadline passed that would have allowed him an easy way to get off Missouri's November ballot, he appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America." Akin left himself some but not much wiggle room to change his mind about running.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS PROGRAM)
REPRESENTATIVE TODD AKIN: I'm never going to say everything that can possibly happen. I don't know the future. But I do know this: I knew that the party voters took a look at our hearts, understood who we were, had a chance to meet us in many, many different ways and made a decision.
NAYLOR: On NBC's "Today Show," Akin confirmed reports that among those who urged him to drop out of the race was his fellow House lawmaker, now Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS PROGRAM)
AKIN: Paul Ryan did give me a call, and he felt that I had to make a decision. But he advised me that it would be good for me to step down.
NAYLOR: But Akin said he told Ryan that, in Akin's words, it's not about me. It's about trying to do the right thing and standing on principle. His decision to stand on principle has led his financial support to dry up, at least from big-dollar party sources. Akin says he's already been receiving donations from, as he put it, regular small people. While Akin will likely have the support from Missouri's evangelical community, political science professor Dave Robertson of the University of Missouri, St. Louis says he'll need more.
DAVE ROBERTSON: He's going to have to get votes from more moderate, middle-of-the-road Republicans. And the way he's going to have to do that is to change the conversation to the economy.
NAYLOR: That's exactly the debate former Republican Senator John Danforth says the election should be about. Danforth was among those who urged Akin to withdraw from the race. He says Akin won't be able to raise enough money to run a competitive campaign and flatly says Akin can't win in November.
JOHN DANFORTH: I think that the Democrats, smelling blood, will pour more money into our state, including into the presidential campaign. And this is something that Senator McCaskill will keep alive right until Election Day. This is not going to fade away. So, no, I think he's got no chance of winning.
NAYLOR: While the calculus has gotten a lot harder for Akin, things are looking up for McCaskill. She had been the target of millions of dollars in campaign ads from Republicans and outside groups, ads no longer running. And the University of Missouri's Robertson says she can now expect donations to flow into her campaign.
ROBERTSON: McCaskill is going to be able to get campaign contributions from around the country. The other side of this is it nationalizes the race on the left side of the spectrum. An awful lot of people who are pro-choice now are going to want to chip in to defeat Akin.
NAYLOR: Democrats say they have no plans at the moment to change their strategy in Missouri. And Akin's remarks that women's bodies can prevent pregnancy caused by, in his words, a legitimate rape feed into the narrative that they and McCaskill had already been sketching in their TV ads, that Akin's an extremist.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The minimum wage? Akin wants to abolish it.
AKIN: I don't think the government should be setting the prices or wages on different things.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Making college affordable. Akin compared the federal student loans program to stage 3 cancer.
NAYLOR: If he gets a court order, Akin still has until September 25th to withdraw from the race. And while he hasn't issued a Shermanesque statement flatly ruling out the possibility, at this moment he seems little inclined to change his mind.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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