Just when they thought it was safe to talk about the economy, the Republicans are plunged into a row over a Senate candidate's comments that women do not get pregnant from "legitimate rape".
Outrageous, reprehensible, insulting and embarassing. Just some of the backlash from leading Republicans after the party's Senate candidate in Missouri, Todd Akin, caused widespread outrage with his comments on rape and abortion.
Speaking to a Fox affiliate television show, Akin insisted that getting pregnant as a result of rape was "really rare". The congressman, a member of the house committee on science and technology, blundered on: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
And he did not leave it there. "Let's assume that didn't work or something," he went on, apparently knocking down his own argument. "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist, and not attacking the child."
Within moments, the Democrats were all over the remarks, swiftly posting the interview clip online, and posting this rebuttal from Claire McCaskill, who is running against Akin for the Missouri seat: "It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape," she said, describing Akin's ideas about the crime and the impact on its victims as "offensive".
The Republican party, which had been hoping that it had got beyond the tricky territory of gender politics and the "war on women", tried desperately to row back. Sarah Steelman, who ran against Akin in the GOP senate primary, condemned his remarks as "inexcusable, insulting and embarassing to the GOP".
A fellow Senate nominee in Montana, Rep Dennis Rehburg, vented his fury in similar vein. "As a pro-life conservative, a husband, and a father of two young women... I condemn Representative Akin's statements in the strongest possible terms," he said.
Nationally, the Mitt Romney camapaign issued a hasty statement, saying they disagreed with Akin, "and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape."
Ryan, Akin and 'forcible rape'
Except perhaps that time last year when Paul Ryan partnered up with one Todd Akin to co-sponsor a bill opposing tax-payer funding for abortion. That included a clause restricting abortion to victims of "forcible rape". As opposed to? As for Ryan, he personally believes that abortion should be outlawed in all cases - unless a doctor declares it is essential to save a mother's life. "I'm as pro-life as a person gets," he said.
Still, Akin's remarks are more reminiscent of some of the whackier musings by conservative Republicans - like Clayton Williams, whose attempt to become governor ot Texas in 1990 was poleaxed after he compared rape to bad weather: "If it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it." He lost the race.
Buzzfeed has also compiled a list of others who have voiced similar views to Akin. But this was no isolated, uncharacteristic remark for the Missouri congressman. In the past, he has suggested that women going through divorce proceedings might claim they had been raped as a "tool and a legal weapon to beat up on a husband".
DEFCON 5. Panic for the rest of the ticket. Major intervention needed. Republican operative, in Politico
And in the last few days alone, he has declared it is time for a second look at the civil rights act - compared federal student loans to "the stage three cancer of socialism", and outright opposed federal funding for school lunches.
Crossing the line
This time, though, it appears he has totally crossed the line, threatening to drag his party down with him - and putting a race where he was streets ahead into play for the Democrats. No wonder they ploughed millions of dollars into helping to get him selected as the Republican party nominee. Politico reports one Missouri party operative's despair: "For God's sake. DEFCON 5. Panic for the rest of the ticket. Major intervention needed."
Akin himself has not quite apologised, although he did issue a statement: "In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear 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."
As Romney and Ryan tried to campaign in New Hampshire, their efforts were inevitably overshadowed by the scandal. Mitt Romney told National Revew that Akin's comments were "insulting, inexcusable, and frankly wrong. Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive". But even those within his party are suggesting he should show leadership by getting Akin to pull out of the race.
Claire McCaskill says she thinks that could risk a backlash from the millions of Missouri Republicans who helped select him as their candidate (with a little help from Democratic party funds). Plus, of course, the row has already resulted in an "uptick" in donations to her campaign.
With candidates like Akin, though, who needs attack ads? Whatever campaign strategy the Obama team was planning this week, you can bet it is being re-written as we speak. You ain't seen the last of the "war on women" yet.
Felicity Spector writes about US politics for Channel 4 News