Top Republicans on Monday backed away from their Senate candidate in Missouri and party leaders threatened to revoke financial support if he doesn’t withdraw from the race after his comments about rape and abortion, but Rep. W. Todd Akin insisted he is in to stay.
Mr. Akin’s comments in a local television interview Sunday, in which he said rape victims are unlikely to become pregnant from a “legitimate rape,” have roiled the national political scene. The Republican Party now fears he will jeopardize its chance to win control of the Senate, and President Obama and other Democrats sought to push their political advantage by saying Mr. Akin’s comments expose a deeper sentiment among Republicans.
Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, gave Mr. Akin until Tuesday to decide whether to stay in the race and vowed to pull $5 million worth of television ads slated to run in Missouri this fall, no matter what Mr. Akin decides to do, an NRSC official said.
But Mr. Akin, who quickly apologized for his comments, dug in his heels on the campaign question. He told talk-radio host Sean Hannity on Monday that he is not leaving the race and that he still believes he is the best candidate to win, especially after unexpectedly winning a tough primary battle two weeks ago.
“I was told that there is a decision has to be made by 5 o’clock tomorrow, but I was calling you and letting you know that I’m announcing today that we’re [staying] in,” he said.
He sent out a fundraising appeal via Twitter, linking to his campaign website and writing, “I am in this race to win. We need a conservative in the Senate.”
If he stays in, however, it likely will be a lonely campaign.
Fellow Republican candidates, including Sen. Scott P. Brown in Massachusetts and Heather Wilson in New Mexico, called on him to withdraw, and presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney called his comments “insulting.”
Polls had shown Mr. Akin leading the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, ahead of November’s election.
Mrs. McCaskill, who has been working to characterize Mr. Akin as a radical conservative as she vies for the moderate vote, accused him of being ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma experienced by women who are raped.
“This statement is sort of a window into Todd Akin’s mind,” she said Monday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “This is incredibly painful because it shows how many people are out there — sometimes in incredibly powerful positions — that don’t understand the trauma.”
The controversy arose Sunday when Mr. Akin was asked on the St. Louis station KTVI-TV whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape. He said there are biological factors that make conception less likely when a woman is raped, but that even if she becomes pregnant, it is the rapist — not the fetus — who should be penalized.
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
Mr. Obama, at a brief afternoon news conference, tied Mr. Akin’s comments to the presumptive Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, saying they are part of a political party that wants to get involved in controlling women’s health decisions.
“What these comments underscore is: We shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians — the majority of them who are men — making [health care] decisions on behalf of women,” he said. “And that’s the significant difference in approach” between the Obama and the Romney campaigns.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Mr. Obama’s senior campaign adviser, David Axelrod, said Mr. Ryan and Mr. Akin teamed up on legislation that sought to define “forcible rape” for the purposes of determining which abortions would be covered by federal funding.
Neither man was chief sponsor of the legislation. Both were among the more than 200 co-sponsors. The final bill had exceptions for the life of the mother, incest and all instances of rape, and Mr. Ryan played no role in trying to add the “forcible rape” language, a Romney campaign spokesman said.
“This is another in a string of false attacks by the Obama campaign,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement. “Mitt Romney’s position is clear: He is pro-life. He opposes abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.”
Charlie Summers, Maine Republicans’ nominee for an open Senate seat, called on him to resign his House seat immediately.
As for his Senate nomination, Missouri law gives Mr. Akin until 5 p.m. Tuesday to withdraw from the race. Under that scenario, the Missouri Republican Party would have until Sept. 18 to nominate another candidate.
If Mr. Akin misses the deadline, he can still step out anytime before Sept. 25 as long as he presents a court order and agrees to pay for reprinting the ballots.
St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, the primary opponents whom Mr. Akin defeated two weeks ago, could be alternates if the state party needs another nominee.