Akin's 'legitimate rape' comments trouble for GOP

Akin: Rape remark 'Ill conceived, wrong'

    Just Watched

    GOP Fallout for Rep. Akin

GOP Fallout for Rep. Akin 02:53

Story highlights

  • Rep. Todd Akin's comments could dash GOP Senate hopes, impact presidential race
  • Mitt Romney and other GOP leaders raced to denounce Akin's comments
  • Democrats use the comments to stoke "war on women" campaign rhetoric
  • If Akin stays in the race he could further damage the GOP, strategists say

The fallout over U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin's controversial comments on rape jolted Republicans nationally on Monday and threatened longer-term consequences for them, potentially reviving the "war on women" debate and possibly hurting their campaign to win control of the Senate.

Republican leaders let out a collective groan when Akin claimed in a television interview on Sunday that "legitimate rape" rarely resulted in pregnancy, saying that "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

A social conservative congressman, Akin apologized repeatedly as the political uproar intensified and sought to clarify his remarks, saying he misspoke.

Democrats skewered him nevertheless and many top Republicans called for Akin to reconsider his decision to stay in the Missouri race a week before they nominate Mitt Romney for president at their Tampa convention.

Abortion moves front and center

In an interview with the National Review Online, Romney said that Akin's comments on rape were "insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong."

Akin: Rape remark 'Ill conceived, wrong'

    Just Watched

    Akin: Rape remark 'Ill conceived, wrong'

Akin: Rape remark 'Ill conceived, wrong' 01:20
Akin rape comment to shape races?

    Just Watched

    Akin rape comment to shape races?

Akin rape comment to shape races? 01:52
Granderson to women : Wake up

    Just Watched

    Granderson to women : Wake up

Granderson to women : Wake up 03:28

But Democrats sensed a political opening to shift the conversation away from the sluggish economy, saying that Republicans led by Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, were pushing policies that were anti-women.

Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report, said Akin potentially reignited the "war on women" rhetoric that factored prominently in the political debate earlier this year and for a time put Republicans on the defensive.

"It plays into this Democratic messaging that it is not a party friendly to women," Duffy said. "As the top political story of the day it is going to be something that plays into the larger narrative that Democrats want in order to appeal to women voters."

A Republican National Committee member who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity said the issue is "is not where (Governor) Romney and his ticket want to spend their time" between now and Election Day.

President Barack Obama handily won over women voters in the 2008 election and holds an edge with that key bloc in his race with Romney, polls show. A recent Gallup survey showed Obama with an 8% lead over his Republican rival among women.

The "war on women" label stemmed in part from a fierce political fight in Washington this year over contraception coverage for employees of religiously affiliated institutions. Congress, in addition, waged a partisan fight over updates to the Violence Against Women Act.

The Romney campaign has adopted a message that Democrats are the ones waging a "war on women." For instance, Romney has accused the Obama's administration of failing working women.

The potential longer-term implications of the Akin controversy also were evident in Republican calls for him to withdraw from his Senate race where incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill has been trailing in the polls.

Republicans were concerned the flare-up would permanently harm their chances of upending McCaskill in November and push them closer to taking control of the Senate.

Ron Bonjean, a veteran GOP strategist for several congressional leaders and partner at the political communications firm Singer Bonjean Strategies, said Akin's comments were "politically indefensible" and "virtually guarantees" McCaskill would be re-elected.

Outside of Missouri, Republican Sen. Scott Brown, locked in a tough fight in Massachusetts, also called for Akin to step aside.

Stuart Rothenberg editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said he has been told by Republican strategists that Akin is now "too radioactive."

"There is a lot of national pressure being put on Akin that he's not going to be able to raise Republican money and get the party behind him," Rothenberg said.

Akin said he plans to remain in the race.

Video of the Akin interview with Missouri television station KTVI was posted online by the liberal super PAC American Bridge.

      Election 2012

    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
    • Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
    • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

      The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
    • Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.