WASHINGTON -- Todd Akin's message to anyone hoping he would bail out of the Missouri Senate race: "Those people are fooling themselves."
In an interview with USA TODAY, the Republican lawmaker -- abandoned by his party and GOP outside groups when he made controversial comments last month about the abortion rights of raped women -- is unbowed and confident that he is on track to defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Republican Party leaders had hoped Akin would exit the race by a Tuesday deadline to get his name off the ballot in order to nominate another Republican, but the six-term House member has never entertained the notion and has lashed out at "party bosses" who tried to influence the race.
"We are moving full speed ahead. We have tremendous focus to do what I was commissioned to do by the voters of the state of Missouri and that is replace Claire McCaskill," he said.
Akin had been favored in the general election until he made comments to a television station in August that victims of "legitimate rape" rarely become pregnant because women's bodies can "shut that whole thing down."
Akin, a devout Christian, opposes abortion rights in all circumstances. He apologized for a "six-second mistake" but said it was no reason to abandon his Senate bid. Akin reflected Friday that the experience has been "a blessing" that has inspired him and his supporters.
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas, led a national chorus of elected officials and party leaders calling on Akin to exit because they believe what Akin does not: He is going to lose and increase the Democrats' chances of retaining control of the U.S. Senate.
Jennifer Duffy, a non-partisan analyst for the Cook Political Report, said Cook rates the race in McCaskill's favor. She has a significant financial advantage -- she is outspending him on the airwaves 10-1, and has yet to unleash on Akin, which political observers such as Duffy say will occur soon after the Sept. 25 deadline passes. "I just think after all that? Game over," she said.
Akin is trying to steer the campaign narrative back to the economy, and he is making overtures to women voters, who opposed him by 20 points in an Aug. 25 St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Mason-Dixon poll. Women feature prominently on his campaign website, and he released an eight-minute online video Thursday highlighting women who support him.
McCaskill has used the controversy to paint a broader picture of Akin as too conservative for the state.
At their first debate Friday in Columbia, Mo., McCaskill said the episode "opened the window to his views" and criticized his opposition to federal student loan programs and his support of a plan to privatize the Medicare system as examples. "It's less about any one particular thing that he's said but about the positions he's taken on issues that are on the fringe and too extreme for Missouri," said Erik Dorey, a McCaskill spokesman.
"The objective of the McCaskill campaign is to try and paint me as an extremist, and I don't think they've succeeded at all," Akin responded.
He is confident the party that abandoned him will rally behind him if the race proves competitive in the home stretch. "I would be surprised if they didn't. I'm a businessman by training, and I've been in politics now, and there's some place where common sense is going to need to come in," he said.
At least one prominent Republican, former House speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, is standing with Akin. The two will campaign together Monday in St. Louis.
by Susan Davis, USA TODAY