WASHINGTON - Trying to keep the presidential contest focused on the economy rather than divisive social issues, Republican candidate Mitt Romney joined a growing GOP chorus urging a Missouri Senate candidate to quit the race after inflammatory comments about abortion and rape.
Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri has apologized for remarks he made during a Sunday TV interview, yet steadfastly refused on Tuesday to drop his campaign as the Republican nominee to unseat Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.
The backlash over Akin's comments characterizing "legitimate rape" and the abortion rights of its victims has been swift and its ramifications enormous: undermining the GOP's chances of winning the Missouri seat - and perhaps control of the Senate - while hijacking the Romney campaign's carefully scripted narrative just a week before the party's convention in Tampa.
Akin said in a TV interview Sunday that a woman's body could prevent pregnancy in a "legitimate rape" because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Meanwhile, a GOP committee moved Tuesday to again include a plank in the party platform for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no specific language to exempt cases of rape or incest. A similar abortion plank was included in the 2004 and 2008 party platforms.
Republicans are expected to approve the platform Monday when the Republican National Convention begins in Tampa to formally nominate Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan for the national ticket. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told CNN that he did not want Akin to attend the convention. A spokesman for Akin's campaign did not respond when asked if he was still planning to attend.
Party leaders, such as Romney and Priebus, no longer believe Akin can win. Regardless, Akin vowed to stay in the race and said the push to oust him was "a bit of an over-reaction." He also cited an overnight poll by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling released Tuesday that showed him with a one-point lead over McCaskill.
Akin's voting record on abortion rights mirrors Ryan's over the 12 years they have served together in the House. It includes co-sponsorship of an unsuccessful bill last year to define "forcible rape" in an attempt to restrict abortion funding. That "forcible rape" provision was later dropped.
Since Akin joined the House in 2001, he and Ryan have co-sponsored at least 33 bills that attempted to restrict abortion rights.
They include attempts to prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion rights for women living in Washington, D.C., a proposal to define human life as beginning at the point of fertilizations, and a requirement that abortion providers perform and explain an obstetric ultrasound before a woman can give her consent for an abortion.
None of those bills has become law, but they offer a glimpse of Ryan's consistency opposing abortion rights. Akin's candidacy has forced the presidential ticket to engage in a race other than their own. Romney reiterated Tuesday that he viewed Akin's comments as "offensive and wrong."
Ryan has a 100% rating by National Right to Life, one of the nation's largest advocacy groups against abortion rights that tracks and scores key votes on abortion by lawmakers.
Social issues have played a backseat role in the presidential debate, but both parties are seeking the upper hand with women voters. The latest Aug. 13 USA TODAY/Gallup Poll gave Obama a nearly 9-point lead, 49.9%-41.2%, over Romney among women.
Ryan is more often associated as a fiscal conservative for his authorship of the House GOP's budget blueprint and his advocacy to reduce government spending and reform entitlement programs, but the Wisconsin Republican has been a reliable vote opposing abortion rights.
Collectively, his fiscal and social record ranks him as the most conservative Republican lawmaker to be tapped as the vice presidential nominee since 1900, according to statistician Nate Silver using data compiled by DW-NOMINATE, a vote-record data service run by the political science department at the University of Georgia.
Romney's record on abortion rights is more muddled. As a Massachusetts Senate candidate in 1994 he supported abortion rights, but later reversed his position as governor and opposes abortion rights now except in the cases or rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is at risk. In a Tuesday interview with KDKA, a local Pittsburgh TV station, Ryan said that a Romney administration would reflect Romney's views.
By Susan Davis, USA TODAY