U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comment that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy gave Democrats a fresh line of attack in their election-year theme about a Republican “war on women” as Mitt Romney worked to distance his presidential campaign from the remarks.
Republican lawmakers and officials spent yesterday urging Akin to quit the Senate race in Missouri after his Aug. 19 remarks during a television interview stirred outrage from women’s groups and lawmakers in both parties. The controversy roiled a race that may be pivotal for control of the Senate just as Republicans prepare to hold their nominating convention next week in Tampa.
“It helps the overall Democratic narrative and it puts the Republicans on the defensive,” said David Johnson, a Republican strategist from Atlanta who worked on former U.S. Senator Bob Dole’s presidential bid.
Akin, a 65-year-old Missouri congressman, is running to oust first-term Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. In addition to the Missouri race, there are competitive Senate contests featuring female Democratic candidates where Akin’s comments might be troublesome for Republicans, including in Wisconsin and North Dakota, Johnson said.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the Republican Party’s Senate campaign committee, yesterday urged Akin to “carefully consider” whether he should remain a candidate. Cornyn told Akin that he’s hurting Republican efforts to capture a Senate majority and that the national party wouldn’t spend money to help elect him, according to an aide to the committee who asked not to be identified and wasn’t authorized to comment publicly.
The controversy erupted after Akin said in an interview aired on the Fox affiliate in St. Louis two days ago that abortion shouldn’t be allowed in rape cases, in part because pregnancy was unlikely to result.
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin, who has served in the U.S. House since 2001, said in the interview. “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin later apologized.
The remarks were condemned by both parties’ presidential candidates. Romney, in an interview with National Review Online, said the comments were “insulting, inexcusable and frankly, wrong,” while stopping short of calling for Akin to step aside.
President Barack Obama made a rare appearance yesterday at the daily White House reporters’ briefing and castigated Akin, calling his remarks “offensive.”
Instead of stepping aside, Akin has sought forgiveness. With a 30-second ad opening with a picture of the congressman and his wife, Akin made a solo and personal appeal to voters in Missouri: “Rape is an evil act,” Akin says to the camera.
“I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize,” he said, noting that he is the father of two daughters and wants “tough justice” for any “predators,” while holding compassion for any victims.
In a radio interview yesterday with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Akin said he intended to stay in the race.
“The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I’m not a quitter.” He said he had “not yet begun to fight.” In an e- mailed appeal to supporters last night, Akin also apologized for his remarks and asked backers to “chip in $3 as a sign of support of my continued candidacy.”
Under Missouri law, Akin has until 5 p.m. today to have his name removed from the ballot without a court order.
Akin leads McCaskill by a single point, 44 to 43 percent, according to a Public Policy Polling survey taken between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. U.S. Central Standard Time last night. It’s similar to a poll taken in late May, which found Akin ahead by a 45-44 spread.
Romney is seeking to unite his party and woo voters by focusing the presidential election on U.S. economy and jobs after his choice of Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who heads the House Budget Committee, as his running mate.
Akin’s comments have reignited a debate over women’s health and Democrats drew parallels between Akin and Ryan, who cosponsored last year with Akin two measures restricting the definition of rape.
The bills would have prohibited federal funds from being used for abortion, except under certain conditions, with both bills as initially drafted using the term “forcible rape” as an exception to the funding ban.
The Hyde amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion and has been included annually in spending bills since 1976, would have been made permanent by one of the bills. The other would have amended the 2010 health-care overhaul to include similar restrictions on federal funding of health-care benefits coverage that includes abortion, except in cases of forcible rape, incest with minors or when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger.
While the legislation didn’t explain the difference between rape and forcible rape, the word “forcible” was removed from each bill in committee by amendments from Republicans after criticism from Democratic lawmakers and reproductive-rights groups.
Both bills passed the House and aren’t expected to advance in the Democratic-led Senate. The White House “strongly opposes” each measure.
Ryan has cast 59 votes on abortion and other reproductive- rights issues during his 13 years in the House, with all of them qualifying as “anti-choice,” according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group. Abortion opponents call those votes “pro-life.”
He also cosponsored a measure to require a woman to undergo an ultrasound before she can receive an abortion and, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, his budget blueprint would end federal dollars for Planned Parenthood as well as Title X, the national family-planning program.
“They’re going to take all the opposition research they’ve done on Ryan and women and start unleashing it now because of this,” said Nancy Dwight, a former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee who supports abortion rights. “Every day the Romney campaign or the campaign in general isn’t talking about jobs and the economy is a good day for the Obama camp.”
The Obama campaign is seeking to prevent Romney from narrowing a gap in support from women voters. Women, who generally favor Democratic candidates, accounted for 53 percent of the electorate in 2008 and backed Obama over Republican nominee John McCain by 56 percent to 43 percent, according to a national exit poll.
About 58 percent of women said they have a favorable impression of Obama, compared with 36 percent who said the same about Romney, in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted Aug. 1-5. Among men surveyed, 47 percent said they view Obama favorably and 44 percent view Romney favorably.
As the Akin remarks dominated the headlines, Obama sought during yesterday’s White House briefing to draw a contrast with the Republican Party on women’s health.
“The underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions -- or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape -- I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party,” Obama said.
The Democratic National Committee sent an e-mail titled “Stunningly Backward” to supporters. “Now, Akin’s choice of words isn’t the real issue here,” wrote Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the DNC chairwoman. “The real issue is a Republican party -- led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan -- whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong.”
The Obama campaign has also been running ads for several weeks featuring a woman named Jenni saying “it’s a scary time to be a woman” and calling Romney “just so out of touch” on issues including abortion and insurance coverage for contraception.
Some Republicans said Akin’s remarks won’t end up benefiting the Democrats in the presidential campaign.
“Democrats are mistaken if they believe an attack on life or a full-throated defense of abortion would accrue to their political benefit in this cycle,” said Republican strategist Mary Matalin, a former adviser to President George W. Bush’s administration. “They could make it part of their base- energizing effort, but this electorate does not want to have an election about abortion.”
Republican figures, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who will give the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention next week in Tampa, Florida, said they wouldn’t work to help Akin’s campaign.
Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, interviewed on CNN, called Akin’s remark “biologically stupid.” In a separate interview on MSNBC, he said in the Republican Party there is “complete unity over the fact that he ought to get out of the race.”
Akin beat St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman in a Republican primary on Aug. 7. Republicans have produced negative ads tying McCaskill to Obama, whose popularity has fallen in the state.
In an e-mailed statement, McCaskill called Akin’s comments “offensive.”
“It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape,” she said.
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