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Republicans Urge Akin to Quit Senate Race

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - August 20, 2012

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Akin later walked back his remark, but didn’t completely rescind his position. “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” he said in a statement. “Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.”

The Akin interview drew national attention, and the Republican presidential ticket was quick to distance itself from the remarks. “Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” the campaign said in a statement issued Sunday night. Ryan, a staunch opponent of abortion, previously said he supported the procedure only in order to save the mother’s life, not in rape cases. He also supported personhood legislation that does not include rape or incest as exceptions, and co-sponsored a bill with hundreds of other lawmakers that would narrow the definition of rape in order to restrict federal funding of abortions.

In a Monday interview with the National Review Online, Romney called Akin’s comments on abortion “insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong.”

“I have an entirely different view,” the presidential nominee told NRO. “What he said is entirely without merit and he should correct it.”

National Democrats quickly tied Akin to the Romney-Ryan ticket in an effort to raise money. “Now, Akin's choice of words isn't the real issue here. The real issue is a Republican party -- led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan -- whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote in a fundraising email. Democrats have been painting Republicans for months as infringing on women’s rights, particularly regarding GOP opposition to a provision in the president’s health care law that employers must provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. Democrats have also cited Romney’s pledge to rescind federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Several Republican Senate candidates in competitive races elsewhere sought to distance themselves from Akin, issuing stronger statements than the one released by the Romney campaign.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown called on Akin to resign his party’s nomination. “There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking,” Brown said in a statement.

Former Virginia Sen. George Allen -- whose use of a derogatory word during his 2006 re-election campaign contributed to his loss to Jim Webb -- said he strongly disapproved of Akin’s original comments “and the sentiments behind them.” Allen, who is in a tight race with former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine for the retiring Webb’s Senate seat, also cited his service on a Rape Crisis Board.

Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg called Akin’s remarks “offensive and reprehensible.”

Mike Murphy, a former adviser to Romney and John McCain, also called on Akin to relinquish his bid. “Akin should put good of GOP first and resign nomination now after his idiotic comment. Senate control too important,” he wrote on Twitter. Other strategists offered similar, or at least stern, suggestions.

Akin won a competitive three-way primary in Missouri by portraying himself as the most conservative Republican in the race. Democrats had hoped he would be McCaskill’s opponent, believing that his positions and previous statements (including equating student loans to cancer, and opposing school lunch programs) made him beatable. McCaskill ran ads during the primary calling Akin the most conservative candidate, a tactic intended to help endear him to his primary base.

Not surprisingly, then, McCaskill did not call for Akin to drop out of the race. “It’s not my place to decide,” she said in the MSNBC interview. “It is the people of Missouri. I think the people of Missouri have to make this decision.”

Per state law, Akin cannot be forced out; he would have to withdraw from the race and he has only until Tuesday to do so. But as some operatives point out, Akin owes no debt to the GOP establishment in Missouri, which backed businessman John Brunner in the primary.

And some party strategists asserted that McCaskill remains vulnerable, regardless of Akin’s comments, and that Missouri is still a conservative state. “I think it’s obviously a bad development for the campaign,” said Jeff Roe, a Kansas-City-based Republican insider. “But it still doesn’t change the dynamics of the state of the race, and that’s McCaskill has to find 400,000 Missouri voters to vote for herself and Romney. That’s tough to do in any environment, no matter what Akin said.”

Republicans have been painting McCaskill, an early supporter of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid, as a cheerleader for the president. Obama lost Missouri by just a few thousand votes last cycle, but analysts expect a wider margin of defeat there in 2012.

If Akin stays in the race, he will likely have little room for error going forward. “If they get it fixed this week, this could be ancient history by the middle of September,” says Roe. “But if the mistakes continue, and they can’t fix it, this is going to be down to the wire.” 

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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