U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" and a woman's ability to shut down her reproductive system could have national repercussions.
Embattled Missouri Congressman Todd Akin vowed to stay in his Senate race on Monday, speaking for the first time since suggesting that in cases of "legitimate rape" women can prevent pregnancy.
"I need to apologize," Akin told Mike Huckabee, host of The Huckabee Report radio show. "I made that statement in error, rape is never legitimate. I used the wrong words in the wrong way."
Since his initial comments Sunday, Akin has been hammered by politicians on both sides of the aisle. President Obama called the comments offensive on Monday, and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled $5 million in advertising set aside for his Senate race, according to The Associated Press.
"I'm not a quitter," Akin said. "By the grace of God, we'll win this race."
Later in the interview, Huckabee asked what Akin meant by "legitimate rape."
"I was talking about forcible rape," said Akin, reviving a phrase that stirred controversy last year when it was used in a bill put forth by the GOP, before being dropped under public pressure.
In the first question during the White House briefing Monday, President Obama was asked about Akin's remarks.
"The views expressed were offensive... rape is rape," he said. "He was nominated by people of Missouri and I'll let them sort that out."
The initial comments came in a TV interview over the weekend, when Akin was asked about his views on abortion in the case of rape.
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin told Charles Jaco of KTVI. “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.”
Akin's comments not only revitalized his Senate opponent's campaign, but he may have effectively torpedoed any chance the Republicans had of taking control of the Senate -- if he stays in the race.
The Democrats have a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate (with Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman caucusing with the Democrats), and there are 33 seats up for election this fall.
Political prognosticator Nate Silver of The New York Times on Aug. 15 crunched the numbers and predicted that the GOP would win enough Democratic seats to make for an even split in the Senate.
If a 50-50 split were to happen, whichever party won the White House would effectively control the Senate, as the Vice President would represent the tie-breaking vote.
But if Akin's ill-considered comments about "legitimate rape" are hurtful enough to cost him the election, it would very likely mean that the Democrats would maintain their Senate majority regardless of who wins the presidential election.
Now, some Republicans are calling for Akin to drop out of the race.
"Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin’s statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for US Senate in Missouri," Sen. Scott Brown told the Boston Globe.
Sen. Ron Johnson, from Wisconsin, also called for Akin's withdrawal, but for purely political reasons.
"Todd Akin's statements are reprehensible and inexcusable. Gaining a Republican majority in the US Senate and fixing the huge challenges that face our nation is more important than any one individual's political ambitions," Johnson said in a statement. "Todd Akin should do the right thing for the nation and step aside today, so Missouri Republicans can put forth a candidate that can win in November."
No doubt heightening the pressure to bow out is the National Republican Senatorial Committee's telling Akin they will not be contributing any money to his campaign, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell calling on him to think seriously about his future.
"Congressman Akin's comments were totally inexcusable. What he said is just flat wrong in addition to being wildly offensive to any victim of sexual abuse," said McConnell. "Although Representative Akin has apologized, I believe he should take time with his family to consider whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in this critical election."
If Akin is having seconds thoughts about withdrawing, he should decide quickly, as Tuesday is the deadline for him to do so and still allow the state Republican party to replace him on the ticket.
Akin's comments spread quickly Sunday, drawing immediate criticism from Sen. Claire McCaskill, whose Senate seat Akin is seeking.
"It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape," said McCaskill in a statement released Sunday. "The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive."
And McCaskill was not alone. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was quick to renounce Akin, with a statement of his own.
“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement,” the campaign said. “A Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
The Tea Party Express, a political action committee, called for Akin to resign his candidacy for the Senate, calling "Akin's frequent 'Bidenisms'" a "distraction from the important issues at hand."
In fact, Akin received so much criticism from both sides of the aisle, as well as groups like Planned Parenthood, that he wasted no time in backing away from the comments.
"In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year," Akin said in a statement.
Akin also took to Twitter in an effort to quell the storm.
"'To be clear, all of us understand that rape can result in pregnancy & I have great empathy for all victims. I regret misspeaking.'- Todd," he tweeted.
In an afternoon interview with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity, however, Akin slightly backed away from his steadfast commitment to remain in the race after Hannity told him that "this is bigger than one person" and that his comment could potentially harm the GOP.
"All those things need to be looked at," he said.
Romney steered clear of the issue during his Town Hall meeting Monday at St. Anselm's College in New Hampshire, instead focusing on Medicare and the economy. Later in the day, however, he offered a stronger reaction to Akin's comment during an interview with WMUR.
"I can't defend what he said. Can't defend him," he said.
Congressman Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, was among the sponsors, along with Akin, of the "Sanctity of Life Act" in 2011. The bill sought to confer "personhood" at the moment of conception, in an effort to make abortion, even in the case of rape, illegal.