An important deadline has now passed. Under Missouri election law, if Congressman Akin had agreed to quit the race before 5 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, all the state Republican Party committee needed do was name a replacement candidate in the next two weeks to face Sen. Claire McCaskill (D).
Now, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the embarrassing spectacle of the party’s top figures trying to get the winner of a state primary to quit his race moves into a new phase. If Akin drops out by Sept. 25, his name can still be removed from the ballot, though with a court order. The two-week rule on naming a replacement would still apply.
After Sept. 25, Akin’s name remains on the ballot, regardless of whether he’s actively running. An alternate Republican could run as a write-in.
The uproar over Akin’s candidacy began on Sunday, when the conservative House member referred to “legitimate rape” in explaining his views on abortion.
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said of pregnancies from rape, speaking on St. Louis television. “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 has apologized for saying “legitimate rape” – he says he “misspoke” – but has not backed down from his no-exceptions view of abortion. By Monday morning, the political world was in full uproar, as top Republicans urged Akin to step aside to allow an undamaged replacement to take on Senator McCaskill.
Republicans consider McCaskill the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate, and have been counting on winning her seat in their drive to retake control of the Senate.
On Monday, Mr. Romney – poised to become the Republicans’ presidential nominee next week – held back from overtly calling on Akin to drop out. The thinking seemed to be that if Akin resisted a call to drop out, Romney would look weak. By Tuesday afternoon, there was no holding back.
“As I said yesterday, Todd Akin's comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,” Romney said in a statement. “Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”
Earlier in the day, four former Republican senators from Missouri called on Akin to step aside: John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, John Danforth, and Jim Talent. National GOP committees and outside groups have withdrawn financial support. Tea party groups have also urged Akin to drop out. (He’s a member of the House Tea Party Caucus.)
On Tuesday afternoon, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) put out yet another plea for Akin to drop out:
"This is undoubtedly a difficult time for Congressman Akin, but the stakes in this election are far bigger than any one individual By staying in this race, Congressman Akin is putting at great risk many of the issues that he and others in the Republican Party are fighting for, including the repeal of ObamaCare.
It should not be lost on anyone that some of the only voices not calling for Congressman Akin to do the right thing and step aside are Claire McCaskill and the leaders of the pro-abortion movement. Senator McCaskill knows that the only way she wins re-election is if Todd Akin is her opponent in November.
We continue to hope that Congressman Akin will do the right thing for the values he holds dear, but there should be no mistake – if he continues with this misguided campaign, it will be without the support and resources of the NRSC."
As the pressure has risen, Akin has dug in his heels. And he does have backers: Anti-abortion activists, such as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, have stated their support. Akin says he has received phone calls from supporters urging him to stay in.
A Public Policy Polling survey of Missouri voters taken on Monday and released Tuesday could also encourage Akin. It found him leading McCaskill 44 to 43 percent. Though another poll, by SurveyUSA, showed that 54 percent of Missourians want Akin to step aside.
Republicans are now hopeful that Akin will drop out by Sept. 25. Analysts say the two top choices are the runners-up from the Aug. 7 primary, businessman John Brunner and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman.
“Republicans warn that selection of a candidate who has not competed in the primary gives McCaskill a fresh issue about an opponent who was chosen by the party elite rather than the people,” writes John Gizzi, political editor of the conservative weekly Human Events.