Missouri Republican Todd Akin, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, ignited a storm of controversy from the left and the right over the weekend with his comments on abortion in cases of rape.
In an interview with a local Fox television station, Akin said that in cases of "legitimate rape," women's bodies have the ability to "shut the whole thing down" — implying that women who get pregnant very likely didn't really feel they were being raped at the time. Akin is strongly anti-abortion in all cases, and was using this logic to explain why he didn't believe a rape exception was necessary to his proposal to ban all abortions in the United States. Doctors say Akin's comments are just plain wrong.
Akin went onto say that, if a women did become pregnant, he felt the punishment should be on the rapist and not, he said, against the unborn child — in essence saying that allowing women to abort a fetus conceived via rape was tantamount to punishing a child, instead of the criminal.
Democrats quickly pounced on his comments and said its indicative of the overall Republican mindse, with President Barack Obama trying to link Akin's comments with challengers Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's views on women's rights in general and abortion in particular.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Congressman Akin’s comments were both appalling and offensive. And the broader debate that the Republican Party’s been having over women’s issues, it sounds like something we would have heard 50 years ago,” Ben LaBolt, the Obama campaign spokesman, said according to the Washington Post.
Obama himself made his first appearance in front of the White House press corps Monday afternoon, a surprise, and again criticized Akin's comments as offensive.
"We shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, most of whom are men, making healthcare decisions for women," he said. "Rape is rape."
But even his fellow Republicans quickly moved to distance themselves from Akin and his comments, with Romney, and several senate candidates calling his comments wrong and inappropriate at best and "offensive," "outrageous" and "inexcusable.
Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, himself up for re-election, even called for Akin to withdraw from the race.
But Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, the incumbent Akin is challenging, perhaps sensing election opportunity, has sought to keep Akin in the race. McCaskill had hoped to face Akin, believing his ultra-conservative orientation presented her with the greatest possibility of success in November.
But recent polls, Akin was leading McCaskill by as much as 7 or 8 points.
Akin, realizing the potentially poisonous nature of his comments, has sought to apologize and walk back his comments in the day since he made the remarks. In an interview on former Arkansas Governor Mike Hucabee's radio show Monday, he apologized for his "foot-in-mouth" remarks, but vowed to stay in the race.
"Rape is never legitimate," he said. "I have to apologize ... we all make mistakes. People do become pregnant from rape, I didn't mean to imply that wasn't the case."
But he also rejected calls to leave the race, saying the people of Missouri nominated him and "he's not a quitter."
"No one has called me and said, 'Todd, I think you should drop out,'" he said on the Huckabee radio show.
Already, some pollsters and statistical analysis were forecasting a major turnaround in the race, however.
The New York Times' Nate Silver, whose widely regarded blog looks at the implication of polls at all levels, predicted a 10-point swing from Akin to McCaskill. Such a swing would move the race from a likely Republican pick-up, to a likely Democratic hold, potentially complicating Republican efforts to take control of the Senate.
On Monday, Croassroads GPS, the Republican Super PAC, announced it was pulling its ads in support of Akin off TV in Missouri. Asked to elaborate by the Washington Post, a spokesman said the action speaks for itself.