The Republican political establishment drew closer to a confrontation with some in the party’s Christian conservative wing Tuesday as Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri chose defiance over surrender, refusing to step aside as the GOP nominee for Senate.
Akin, whose controversial comments Sunday about legitimate rape and pregnancy set off a firestorm inside the party, said he intends to rally conservatives to a campaign focused on abortion, an issue he said was being ignored by the leadership of both major parties.
The escalation came as GOP leaders met in Tampa ahead of next week’s presidential nominating convention.
They adopted a broad anti-abortion position that was silent on whether exceptions should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, the issues that set off the Akin controversy.
Missouri’s Republican Senate primary already served to pit several conservative constituencies against one another, as Christian evangelical leaders backed Akin and hard-line anti-spending conservatives supported his opponents.
Mitt Romney, the GOP’s presidential standard-bearer, joined a broad chorus of Republicans who have urged Akin to step aside for the good of his party.
Todd Akin’s comments were offensive and wrong, and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country, Romney said.
But after two days of apologizing, Akin grew angry Tuesday, allowing a deadline to pass on an easier way to withdraw from the contest. The congressman made clear that he would not apologize for his belief that abortion should be illegal, even in cases of rape.
I misspoke one word in one sentence in one day, he said on a radio talk show hosted by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. I haven’t done anything that’s morally and ethically wrong.
The controversy began Sunday when a St. Louis television station aired an interview in which Akin was asked about his opposition to abortion, even if a woman gets pregnant after being raped.
If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down, he responded, adding that even if the woman became pregnant, the punishment ought to be of the rapist and not attacking the child.
The reaction from the Republican establishment was swift, and by Tuesday, calls for Akin to step aside had increased from a trickle to a deluge.
Immediately after his appearance on Huckabee’s show, party leaders who had been sending Akin signals to quit the race left no doubt about where they stood.
When the future of our country is at stake, sorry’ is not sufficient. To continue serving his country in the honorable way he has served throughout his career, it is time for Congressman Akin to step aside, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, reaffirmed plans to abandon a $5 million campaign for Akin.
The internal GOP debate over Akin has buoyed the hopes of Democrats, who acknowledged that his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, was probably the most endangered Democratic incumbent seeking re-election this year.
A McCaskill victory would present a much steeper hill for Republicans hoping to secure a four-seat gain to take majority control of the Senate.
And some GOP insiders worry that an Akin insurgency campaign could become a rallying point for antiabortion forces and a high-profile subject of division within the party’s base, maybe as soon as next week’s Republican National Convention, which is supposed to be a time of unity.
With Tuesday’s deadline passed, Akin now has until Sept. 25, should he reverse course, to petition the courts to remove his name from the ballot and replace it with that of another Republican, who would be selected by party leaders.