WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the entire GOP national political apparatus launched a swift and relentless crusade against one of their own Monday, seeking to drive Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., out of the U.S. Senate race in Missouri after his controversial comments on rape and pregnancy threatened the party with widespread political harm.
"Congressman Akin's comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong," Romney told the National Review early Monday.
His remarks were soon followed by calls from two GOP senators to withdraw and statements later from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the party's chief Senate campaign strategist, meant to push Akin aside.
Akin's Senate race in Missouri against the embattled Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, has been regarded as one of the most competitive in the country and one of the best opportunities for the GOP to grab a seat.
But fearing the Akin controversy may cost them more than just that one race, Romney and Senate GOP leaders urged Akin to step aside and pulled funds from what they once considered a sure pickup.
Democrats hope to capitalize on Akin's troubles, but it was the Republican response that brought the most pressure to bear. GOP leaders made the decision early Monday to try to forcefully push Akin out well before next week's national party convention.
Sen. Ronald Johnson, R-Wis., a social conservative and tea-party leader, also called for Akin to drop out: "Todd Akin's statements are reprehensible and inexcusable. He should step aside today for the good of the nation."
The efforts at damage control were somewhat hindered by Akin's decision to resist the push to get him out of the race. By midday Monday, Akin had dug in for a fight, giving no public sign that he would withdraw.
"The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I'm not a quitter," Akin told Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who now hosts a radio show. "My belief is, we're going to take this thing forward. And, by the grace of God, we're going to win this race. To quote my old friend John Paul Jones, 'I've not yet begun to fight.' "
Akin's media tour to defend himself included a radio appearance with conservative host Sean Hannity. He did not show up for a planned appearance with CNN's Piers Morgan, who opened his show with an empty chair where Akin was supposed to be sitting.
The comments that sparked the fury aired Sunday on a St. Louis TV station. Akin, an engineer by training, was asked about his staunch opposition to abortion even in the case of women getting pregnant after a rape.
"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," 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."
After backtracking from his comments later Sunday, Akin issued more apologies on Monday, saying: "This weekend I made a mistake. I used the wrong words in the wrong way. What I said was ill-conceived and it was wrong, and for that I apologize."
In an unplanned appearance, President Obama used his first news conference in months to pounce on Akin's remarks.
"Rape is rape, and the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me," Obama said. "So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health-care decisions on behalf of women."
Democrats tried to link Akin's positions on abortion to Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the Republican vice presidential standard-bearer, and other GOP candidates for their co-sponsorship of a 2011 bill that would have strengthened federal prohibitions on abortion funding, redefining rape so that only "forcible rape" would be exempt from the restriction.
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