Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate for Missouri whose remarks about “legitimate rape” have sparked a political firestorm, withstood pressure from his party and vowed to stay in the race.
Mr Akin dug in his heels on Tuesday – even in the face of calls from presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to go – just hours before a deadline beyond which it will become much more difficult for the Republican party to replace him on the ticket.
“I want to make one thing absolutely clear. We are going to continue with this US Senate race,” Mr Akin told Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who hosts a popular conservative radio show.
Mr Akin said that he was staying in the race to represent people whose views are not promoted by the major political parties, adding that one interview should not change that.
The sitting Missouri congressman on Sunday said in a local TV interview that women who were subject to “legitimate rape” did not usually become pregnant because their bodies blocked it.
“I said one word in one sentence on one day, and everything changed,” Mr Akin said on Tuesday. “I believe the defence of the unborn and a deep respect for life ... are not things to run away from.”
But the party continued to pile intense pressure on Mr Akin to withdraw from the race, considered a must-win if Republicans are to take control of the Senate.
Current and former Republican senators for Missouri – Roy Blunt, John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, John Danforth and Jim Talent – issued a statement calling on Mr Akin to withdraw.
“We do not believe it serves the national interest for congressman Todd Akin to stay in this race. The issues at stake are too big, and this election is simply too important. The right decision is to step aside,” they said.
That prompted Mr Romney to issue a statement of his own.
“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,” Mr Romney said. “Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”
Mr Romney also reportedly called Mr Akin directly.
Separately, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which on Monday said it would withdraw all financial support for Mr Akin, continued calling for his departure.
“We continue to hope that congressman Akin will do the right thing for the values he holds dear, but there should be no mistake,” said Brian Walsh, an NRSC spokesman. “If he continues with this misguided campaign, it will be without the support and resources of the NRSC.”
Although the NRSC and Crossroads GPS, a Republican-allied outside group that was channelling millions of dollars into the race to help Mr Akin oust sitting Democrat Claire McCaskill, have withdrawn their support, the candidate called on pro-life supporters to donate to his campaign.
The campaign made a nearly $150,000 ad buy on Tuesday, with an ad in which he apologises for using the “wrong words in the wrong way”.
“Rape is an evil act,” Mr Akin says in the ad. “As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them.” The making of the ad was reported by Politico, the political website, and TalkingPointsMemo.com.
Political analysts said Mr Akin’s continued presence in the race, two days after the release of an interview in which he said that women’s bodies had a natural mechanism to prevent pregnancy in the event of “legitimate rape”, undoubtedly changed the outlook for the Republicans wining a majority in the Senate in November. It also had potentially profound implications for Mr Romney, they said.
The deadline for Mr Akin to resign without any repercussions for the Republican party in Missouri was Tuesday at 5pm local time.
Under Missouri election law, candidates can withdraw 11 weeks before election day, a deadline which would fall on Tuesday. Otherwise, a court order would be needed to remove his name from the ballot
Chris Krueger, an analyst at Guggenheim Partners in Washington, has long predicted that Democrats would narrowly retain control of the Senate. With Republicans picking up potentially three seats in the Senate and Barack Obama winning the White House, the 50-50 tiebreaker vote in the upper chamber would fall to the vice-president.
But on Tuesday Mr Krueger said that the Democrats’ advantage could lower the Republican net gain to two seats or even one, creating a scenario – “albeit unlikely” – that Mr Romney could win the presidency with a Democratic-controlled Senate.
“A Romney administration without a Republican Senate means no reconciliation process, which could completely stifle a Romney agenda,” Mr Krueger said, referring to the procedural mechanism that allows a party to pass budget-related votes, including repealing at least part of Mr Obama’s healthcare reform, with a simple majority.
Another political analyst, Jennifer Duffy, said the Romney campaign’s quick renouncement of Mr Akin’s comments on Monday suggested that they believed that Democrats could make the abortion and rape remarks a presidential campaign issue.
She said the last possible date for Mr Akin to withdraw from the race was September 25, which is the deadline for the party to request that his name be removed from the ballot.
“If it drags on for several more weeks ... it becomes part of [the Democrats’] narrative that Republicans are hostile toward women,” she said.
Mr Obama was due to campaign in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday at a rally that was expected to focus on his record on education.