'Legitimate rape' comment by GOP's Todd Akin shakes up Missouri Senate race

Amid furor over Rep. Todd Akin's comment – that women's bodies are almost always able to prevent pregnancy in cases of 'legitimate rape' – Democrats have new hope of defending their most vulnerable US Senate seat.

Christian Gooden, St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP/File
This Aug. 10 file photo shows Rep. Todd Akin, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Missouri, speaks at the Missouri Farm Bureau candidate interview and endorsement meeting in Jefferson City, Mo.

With one off-key comment by the Republican nominee, the Missouri Senate race has taken a dramatic turn – and suddenly, Democrats are thinking they might be able to save their most vulnerable Senate seat.

Rep. Todd Akin (R) told a TV interviewer Sunday that women’s bodies are almost always able to prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” The six-term congressman, who faces first-term Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in November, was responding to a question on a St. Louis television station about abortion.

Pregnancies from rape are “really rare,” Congressman Akin said, basing this view on “what I understand from doctors.” He opposes abortion in all instances, including for pregnancies that result from rape.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said on KTVI-TV. “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."

After immediate expressions of outrage from women’s groups and Democrats – including Senator McCaskill, who blasted Akin on Twitter – the congressman said he “misspoke.”

“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. “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life, and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

Sunday night, the Romney campaign said Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, disagree with Akin and that a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in cases of rape.

Conservative commentators – including Reihan Salam of National Review and John McCormack of The Weekly Standard – called on Akin to drop out of the race.

One point is clear: The Missouri Senate race has a new complexion, as general election voters take a closer look at the conservative House member who won his party’s nomination on Aug. 7 with just 36 percent of the vote in a crowded field. McCaskill, a Democrat in an increasingly Republican state, became especially vulnerable when it came out last year that taxpayer money was used to fund her senatorial use of a private plane she co-owns with her husband and friends.

Before his comment, Akin was beating McCaskill by an average five percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics.

The Democrats currently control the Senate by a slim 53-to-47 margin, in a cycle with many more opportunities for Republicans to win seats than for Democrats. But Democrats aren’t stopping with blasting the Akin comment to save McCaskill – they’re trying to make Akin the third member of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

“Now, Akin's choice of words isn't the real issue here,” Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote in an e-mail to supporters overnight. “The real issue is a Republican Party – led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan – whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong.”

The episode plays right into the Democrats’ hands. For months, they have been saying the Republicans are waging a “war on women” with their policies on contraception, abortion, health insurance, and women’s pay. President Obama has long enjoyed a gender gap with voters, and hopes to run up his numbers as much as possible with women to make up for his deficit among men. 

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