Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" and abortion have engulfed the Republican Party in a firestorm on the eve of the Republican National Convention, creating a potential distraction from their targeted message about jobs and the economy.
As Republicans prepare to take center stage this week in Tampa to nominate Mitt Romney as their candidate against President Barack Obama, Akin's televised comments: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has a way to shut that whole thing down," remain part of the national debate.
Akin has apologized but resisted calls from Republican leadership to withdraw from the race. The controversy has obvious implications for the Missouri Senate race, the closest race in the country in 2008 and the only swing state that Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain carried that year. The repercussions have have also resurrected the national fight over abortion at a time when the party intended to hammer Obama on economic issues.
Romney moved swiftly to condemn Akin's remarks and to announce he would not oppose abortion in instances of rape. Some political experts say Romney cannot escape the controversy because it links Akin with his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Akin and Ryan co-sponsored a bill that initially distinguished between "forcible rape" and other categories of rape, although the language was eventually changed.
Democrats contend the Republican platform -- which supports a constitutional ban on abortion without specifying any exceptions -- mirrors Akin's policy views.
But Democrats say the Akin controversy will hurt the Republicans, come November, because his views are too extreme for most Americans. "
GOP members said the issue could hurt the Republicans in Missouri but not nationally.
Will issue impact race?
The two sides on the abortion issue faced off Wednesday afternoon when a statewide anti-abortion bus tour made a stop downtown Dayton. Speakers from the Susan B. Anthony List Pro-Life Bust Tour urged supporters to "defeat Obama's extreme agenda," while a counter-protester shouted, "The Republicans are the extremists."
Voters on both sides believe the issue could play in their favor in the Nov. 6 election.
The 30-stop bus tour's lead speaker, former Republican Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, said that Right to Life women are a strong voting bloc whose voices should be heard. After the rally, Musgrave said she is "very optimistic" that the renewed attention will draw anti-abortion voters to the polls.
Counterprotester Joy Schwab, a member of the Women's Rights Alliance, believes the Akin controversy and the renewed attention to the abortion issue will hurt Republicans in November. "They have the nerve to call Obama an extremist when they are drawing up a platform that makes them outside of the mainstream of American public opinion," she said. "Most Americans don't believe that a woman should be forced to bear the child of a rapist."
Political analysts are similarly divided about the impact on the election. Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said it is too early to assess the impact the national race. But he warned against jumping to seemingly obvious conclusions.
He noted it was widely speculated that Romney would lose ground against Obama in Florida after picking Ryan because his running mate had proposed changes to Medicare that were unpopular with the Sunshine State's vast senior population. "When Paul Ryan got picked for vice president, 'the media group-think' was, 'There goes Florida,'" Brown said. "In fact, Romney is doing better in Florida with Ryan than he was before, according to our latest poll.''
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