The pile-on of Rep. Todd Akin was swift and harsh Monday as video of Akin discussing the benign effects of "legitimate rape" on women shot across TV and computer screens. But a handful of people and organizations—from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats—have remained silent or even praised the congressman, holding out hope that he would remain in the race against Claire McCaskill in the U.S. Senate.
For abortion opponents, bailing on the staunchly anti-abortion Akin after years of 100 percent ratings from the National Right to Life made no sense, especially when his comments came as he clumsily defended unborn children who are the result of rape.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, condemned Akin's comments about rape specifically, but did not go after the congressman personally. "Todd Akin ... has a record of voting to protect human life. His opponent does not," she said in a statement. "Congressman Akin has been an excellent partner in the fight for the unborn."
Connie Mackey, the president of Family Research Council Action PAC, flatly said Republicans who are trying to push Akin out of the race have no "backbone."
“We feel this is a case of gotcha politics,” she told Politico. “We know who Todd Akin is because we’ve worked with him up on the Hill. He’s a defender of life. He’s a defender of families. This is just a controversy built up, it looks as though, to support his opposition. Claire McCaskill on the other hand has supported Planned Parenthood all these years ... Todd Akin is getting a very bad break here. We support him fully and completely.”
As abortion opponents stood up for Akin, the majority of the national Republican establishment did just the opposite, sounding a growing drumbeat to get the wounded Akin to leave the Senate race. The first to strike were Mitt Romney and his pro-life running mate, Paul Ryan, who put out a statement Sunday night saying that a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in the case of rape, even though Ryan has opposed abortion in the past in all instances except to protect the life of the mother.
By Monday morning, Romney escalated his language, calling Akin's comments "insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong." Within hours, Sens. Scott Brown, a moderate, and Ron Johnson, a Tea Party–backed conservative, had both called on Akin to leave the race "for the good of the nation," while Sen. John Cornyn, the powerful leader of the Republicans' campaign efforts to take back the Senate, personally told Akin that national Republicans would not be supporting his candidacy and planned to cancel $5 million of ad buys that had been in the works to boost Akin's run against McCaskill in the fall.
Cornyn went public, too, saying that, "Over the next 24 hours, Congressman Akin should carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party, and the values that he cares about and has fought for throughout his career in public service."
For Cornyn, the Romney campaign and other Republican leaders, the real problem with Akin's comments were less about semantics and more about raw politics, Republican aides tell The Daily Beast. Women made up 54 percent of voters in Missouri in 2008, and 53 percent of the electorate nationwide.
Before Akin's comments, he was considered a virtual lock to beat McCaskill and get the GOP one seat closer to the four they need to win control of the U.S. Senate. But after Akin’s name became synonymous with "legitimate rape" overnight, top GOP leaders made the calculation that Missouri, and thus the Senate and possibly even the White House, could be outside of their reach with Akin on the ticket.
Not only would his continued presence ensure that Akin, not McCaskill, was the focal point in the Missouri Senate race, but Akin also would keep the issue of abortion and women’s health front and center in the campaign in a year when Republicans want to focus on jobs, the economy, and Barack Obama's record on both. With a double-digit gender gap already favoring Democrats, Republicans decided the damage that Akin could continue to inflict on the party in the future was not worth the risk of protecting him now.
As loud as Republican leaders were in their calls for Akin to leave the race Monday, national Democratic leaders were as conspicuous in their silence, even as they vocally condemned Akin and his comments about rape.
But why would Democrats take it easy on Akin when he is so close to falling? For the same reason that Republicans are piling on—pure politics.
With Akin on the ticket, Democrats believe they now have the perfect ultra-extreme opponent for the moderate McCaskill, a former prosecutor who tried hundreds of rape cases in her past career. They also have a poster boy for the Tea Party image they want to paint on Romney, Ryan, and the GOP, all in an effort to win over female and independent voters.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz sent a letter to supporters Monday, pointing to Akin as representative of the entire GOP's attitude toward women. "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."
In a separate letter, the chairwoman of the DSCC, Patty Murray, called Akin's views "repulsive," but instead of calling for him to leave the race, Murray asked supporters for $25 to "make sure that reckless, fanatic Todd Akin agenda never gets to the Senate."
But it was Claire McCaskill who became one of the few people Monday to say that the suddenly toxic Akin should be able to stay in the race and face her in November.
"What's startling to me is that (Republican) Party bigwigs are coming down on him and saying that he needs to kick sand in the face of all the primary voters," McCaskill said at a campaign event in suburban St. Louis, according to the AP. "I want Missourians to make a choice in this election based on policy, not backroom politics."
Ironically, the only other person who seemed to agree with McCaskill was Akin himself.
In an interview with Mike Huckabee, Akin apologized for calling any sort of rape "legitimate," but said he believed he should be forgiven for what he said.
"The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I'm not a quitter," Akin told Huckabee. "To quote my old friend John Paul Jones, I have not yet begun to fight."