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Todd Akin rape remarks highlight divide in GOP over abortion

Todd Akin's 'legitimate rape' comment has highlighted the differences between Mitt Romney and Sen. Paul Ryan on abortion. And Republicans would rather talk about the US economy than abortion.

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Romney's campaign says his strategy would achieve energy independence by 2020.

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Meanwhile, Obama's hopes for re-election continue to feel a heavy drag from the weak economic recovery and the near meltdown of the U.S. financial system in late 2008, shortly before he won his first term in the White House. Unemployment remains high at 8.3 percent.

The economy and jobs, voters tell pollsters, are the top issues in the election.

Romney, who amassed a quarter-billion dollar fortune as leader of a private equity company, says his success in the world of big business is needed to heal the economy. Polls show more voters trust Romney's stewardship for revving up the recovery.

While polls show Romney and Obama tied overall, the latest Associated Press-GFK poll shows Obama with a commanding lead as the candidate who better "understands the problems of people like you," 51 percent to 36 percent for Romney. Some 50 percent see him as a stronger leader than Romney.

Obama also has a big lead among women voters. They would be most dramatically affected if Republicans in Congress were able to pass a law making abortion illegal. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a legal right. Opponents have fought unsuccessfully ever since to overturn that ruling.

The growing power of the wing of the Republican party that would deny abortion to victims of rape and incest might drive away moderate voters who had been leaning toward Romney's message as a businessman who can fix the economy.

"There's a good chance that moderate voters who backed Romney on the economy and were willing to overlook the party's stand on social issues now will have a lot harder time voting Republican," said Melody Crowder-Meyer, a political scientist who studies voter attitudes at Sewanee: The University of the South.

Crowder-Meyer said Akin's position on abortion also draws attention to that of Ryan, who has co-sponsored legislation with the congressman to deny abortions to rape and incest victims.

That appeared to be worrying Ryan as well.

Speaking to a Pennsylvania television station, the vice presidential candidate emphasized anew that Romney is at the top of the Republican ticket.

"I'm proud of my pro-life record. And I stand by my pro-life record in Congress. It's something I'm proud of. But Mitt Romney is the top of the ticket, and Mitt Romney will be president and he will set the policy of the Romney administration," Ryan said.

That still leaves Romney open to questions about his changed position on abortion. When he ran for governor of the politically moderate state of Massachusetts, Romney supported abortion rights. As the presidential candidate of an increasingly conservative Republican party, he doesn't.

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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