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Republican leaders continue to pressure Todd Akin to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race in Missouri. Akin embarrassed the party when he said women can block pregnancy in cases of what he called legitimate rape. Akin has apologized. And as Frank Morris from member station KCUR reports, many Missourians are still backing him, some more strongly than before.
FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Todd Akin was polling ahead of the incumbent, Democrat Claire McCaskill, but Akin's support fractured into several distinct camps after his "legitimate rape" comment.
(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)
MORRIS: Fireworks explode over downtown Kansas City in a show promoted by a conservative Christian radio station. Mary Bennett here has been watching the firestorm over Todd Akin too.
MARY BENNETT: I've never been a real fan of McCaskill, so when Akin came in, I was kind of looking at him, going, you know, he's a conservative, he's not going to maybe overspend, let's keep an eye on him. But, you know, he made himself look really stupid.
MORRIS: It's pushed Bennett into the undecided column. She's lost faith in Akin's judgment, and she's not the only one.
GINA TOWNLEY: I frankly think that he's very out of touch.
MORRIS: Gina Townley's all decked out in red, white and blue. She says her mom's a rape survivor, so Akin's comments touched a nerve.
TOWNLEY: I wish women didn't get pregnant from rape, but that's just not the way it works.
MORRIS: Abortion, however, is not Townley's top issue. She's among those backing Akin despite reservations.
TOWNLEY: I support a conservative government. So if a Republican candidate fits that bill, then I will be leaning towards that candidate.
MORRIS: The GOP establishment really wants that candidate to be somebody other than Todd Akin. This race is key to their plan to take over the U. S. Senate. Political groups have invested millions blasting the incumbent with negative ads. Victory seemed at hand. Susie Spalty says Akin blew it and should step aside, but if he doesn't...
SUSIE SPALTY: 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.
MORRIS: None of this surprises George Connor, who teaches political science at Missouri Southern University.
GEORGE CONNOR: 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.
MORRIS: 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.
CONNOR: Ultimately, I think this controversy will help Congressman Akin more than it hurts him.
MORRIS: Because it's rallied some of Akin's strongest supporters. Members of a motorcycle club show off their bikes at a veterans benefit in Kansas City. Myrna Meinke says the controversy over Akin has revved up her rebellious streak.
MYRNA MEINKE: It actually made me angry. I'm just tired of a group of elites always telling the average citizen what to think and who to vote for. And it was overblown. I thought it was ridiculous. And, no, I still support him.
MORRIS: Akin claims hundreds of new contributors. Todd Hill says he voted against Akin in the GOP primary but is with him now.
TODD HILL: It solidified my support for him. I'm much stronger for Akin now than I was before because he stands up for what he believes in.
MORRIS: Akin has been raising money. He'll need it. The Republican National Committee says it won't spend a dime to help him. 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. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.