Mitt Romney today joined the chorus of Republicans who are trying to push their fellow Republican Todd Akins out of the Senate race in Missouri because of offensive comments he made about rape and abortion.
The statements by Romney are the clearest indication yet that Republicans fear Congressman Akins, who is challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill for her seat in Missouri, is a harmful presence on the ticket for the Republican presidential candidate.
“As I said yesterday, Todd Akins’ comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,” Romney said in a statement. “Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”
Akins got the same from a contingent of five of Missouri’s leading Republican politicians, who released a joint statement. The five included current Republican Sen. Roy Blount and four former Missouri Senators, John Danforth, Christopher “Kit” Bond, John Ashcroft and Jim Talent.
“We do not believe it serves the national interest for Congressman Todd Akin to stay in this race,” the Missouri politicians said. “The issues at stake are too big, and this election is simply too important. The right decision is to step aside.”
President Obama waded into the issue yesterday, calling Akins’ statements “offensive” during a rare White House news conference.
Obama said, “Rape is rape” and that the idea of distinguishing among types of rape “doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me.”
But when asked yesterday if Akins should step aside, the president said that was a matter for the people of Missouri to decide.
Akin’s bizarre statement came during an interview Sunday with KTVI in St. Louis, when he was asked whether he favors abortion in cases of rape.
“It seems to me first of all, 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 Akins insists he’s not quitting, saying that he misspoke when he said “legitimate” rape. He said he meant to use the term “forcible rape” and simply made a mistake.
“I’m in this race for the long haul and we’re going to win it,” Akin told conservative radio host Dana Loesch. He also released an ad asking for the public’s forgiveness (see video below).
Media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times today brought up the fact that Romney considered the doctor who came up with the theory that Akins was touting as an “important surrogate” for his campaign in 2008. The man, Dr. Jack C. Willke, is widely considered the father of the antiabortion movement and the source of the theory that women can’t get pregnant from violent rape because the trauma causes their reproductive system to shut down. That theory has been widely debunked—not just by medical science but by thousands of women who get pregnant every year from rape.
Despite his stubbornness, it’s hard to imagine how Akins can stay in the race when his entire party is lined up against him, including the man who is running for the top job in the land. It would not be surprising to see Akins step down before next week’s Republican National Convention so that he can allow his party to focus on Romney and his message—and also trying to win back the Senate, where the Democrats hold a 53-47 majority.
The polls suggested Akins had been ahead of McCaskill, who is considered perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate. But with the current controversy, Missouri is now likely a lost cause for the Republicans.