21 Aug 2012

Todd Akin refuses to quit over rape remarks

Todd Akin resists pressure to resign as Republican senate nominee for Missouri, as the row over comments he made about rape threatens to overshadow the election campaign.

Despite calls from Republicans for him to stand down as a nominee, Akin said in an interview: “We are going to continue this race for the US senate.”

Todd Akin must seem like the Republican party’s worst nightmare. The six-term Congressman, who comfortably won his party’s primary to fight the senate seat in Missouri, has not only put his own state back in play – but dragged the political debate right back into territory Mitt Romney was desperately trying to avoid.

Today, an apology, of sorts, with a televised ad begging forgiveness from the Missouri voters who selected him, and declaring he had “used the wrong words in the wrong way” when he told a television interviewer that women could not get pregnant if they had been the victims of “legitimate rape”. Instead, he rapidly reversed his original claim, declaring: “The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims.”

Let us gloss over the fact that there is a substantial group of conservatives who actually believe that a woman’s body naturally blocks pregnancy in the case of rape. Or that Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan, among others, co-sponsored a bill restricting abortion to women subjected to ‘forcible rape’.

Or another Republican congressman, Steve King, who helpfully leapt to Akin’s defence, adding that he had never heard of a girl getting pregnant through statutory rape or incest. No, this time, the Republican hierarchy have been rapidly disassociating themselves from Akin, with mounting calls for him to step down as Senate nominee.

Republican Senators Scott Brown and Ron Johnson had both called for him to drop out of the race – while Rep Danny Rehberg, running for Senate in Montana, handed a $5,000 donation he’d received from Akin’s political action committee to a teenage pregnancy centre. The Missouri Republican Party said it was going through a “difficult time”, but claimed it was “working to find a path forward”.

There’s been a financial impact, too: the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee John Cornyn said Akin wouldn’t be getting the $5 million the party had planned to spend on his election bid, while the conservative financial powerhouse Crossroads, which spends hundreds of millions of pounds helping Republican races, is pulling its ads out of Missouri.

As for Mitt Romney, he’d urged Akin to “spend 24 hours considering what will best help the country”, which has turned out to be about as effective as getting him to stand in the corner with his hands on his head. Conservative commentators deserted him in droves, while Dick Morris even started an online petition, castigating Akin for turning a nine point lead into a race he now had “no chance of winning”.

‘Gutless little twerp’

A poll carried out by Public Policy Polling late on Monday night still put Akin ahead of the Democratic incumbent, Claire McCaskill – but by a single point. Another poll, by SurveyUSA, found 76 per cent of Missouri voters disagreed with his rape comments, with just over a third saying he should stay in the race. However among Republican voters, more than half thought he should continue to run.

Akin said earlier: “The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I’m not a quitter,” he declared.

The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I’m not a quitter. Todd Akin

But there was a deadline. Under Missouri election law, candidates can withdraw up until 11 weeks before election day – or five o clock this evening. After that, a court order would be needed to remove their name from the ballot’

The Democrats have been making much play of all of this, President Obama declaring simply “rape is rape”, while DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told supporters his views merely revealed that the Republican party’s own policies on women and their health were “dangerously wrong”.

And Akin failed to turn up to a scheduled interview on CNN, prompting host Piers Morgan to denounce him as a “gutless little twerp”, as he guestured towards an empty chair on set.

Anti-abortion platform

And in the latest twist to the tale, CNN reports that the Republican party’s draft platform, to be unveiled at the convention next week, includes support for a constitutional ban on abortion without exclusions in cases of rape or incest. “We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that an unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” says the document.

And that, say many womens’ rights activists, is precisely the point: that the flurry to disassociate itself from Akin doesn’t mean the GOP leadership has undergone a sudden change of heart over its new, hardline attitude towards abortion and womens’ reproductive rights.

Todd Akin, they say, represents the mainstream of Republican thinking, and the fuss over what he says has a lot more to do with the impact on the presidential race, than on the party’s fundamental attitude.

Felicity Spector writes about US politics for Channel 4 News