Akin comment increases pressure on Romney to shine at convention

Mitt Romney faces increased pressure to shine at next week’s Republican National Convention because of Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) controversial comments on "legitimate rape" and abortion.

Democrats are delighted that Akin, who will be nowhere near the GOP convention, has re-energized their line of attack on the GOP “war on women,” and they’re now working overtime to tie Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to the conservative’s comments.

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Given the importance of female voters to both Democrats and Republicans this November — as well as Romney’s perceived vulnerability with that constituency — Republicans say Akin has raised the bar for Romney in Tampa.

The convention was always going to be an important moment for Romney, but he must now “knock it out of the park,” according to GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

“The four days in Tampa are going to make or break the Romney-Ryan ticket,” he said. “These are the most important four days of Mitt Romney’s political career.”

The convention is a time for Romney to introduce himself to a general-election office, and the Republican wants attention to focus on jobs and what he argues is President Obama’s mishandling of the economy.

A perfect week leading up to the convention would have been one in which Romney ripped Obama on a daily basis over the sluggish economy. Instead, Akin’s comments on Sunday — that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancies — have thrown that message off all week.

Every week the party spends defending its position on another issue is a lost one, GOP strategists said.

On Wednesday, Ryan spent time on the campaign trail answering reporters’ questions about Akin’s position and defending his own on abortion, which tracks closely with Akin’s. Attention also focused on the anti-abortion-rights-amendment plank included in the GOP’s platform, which Democrats now call the “Akin plank.”

One GOP strategist insisted Republicans had done a good enough job of getting out in front of Democratic attacks on Akin’s comments, and predicted they would soon be a non-issue.

Still, public polling suggests Romney could face a significant gender gap.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released this week gave Obama a 10-point lead among women heading into the GOP convention.

In Tampa, Romney will be under pressure to send out a message that will close that gap.

One way of doing so is to focus on the economy.

“The convention is a starting point, a launching point into the fall,” the GOP strategist said. “We’ll be working to bring the focus back onto the economy."

Even before Akin’s comments, Republicans were worried about a gender gap. Those concerns intensified earlier this year when conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh described a Georgetown graduate student and birth control activist as a "slut."

That’s one reason why Republicans have had female senators such as Lisa Murkowski in Alaska loudly criticize Akin’s comments.

The Akin controversy isn’t just a problem because of the gender gap. It’s a problem because the election could hinge on turnout, and Akin might help Democrats drive their supporters to the polls.

Jennifer Lawless, associate professor of government and director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, sees Akin’s comments as a galvanizing issue for Democratic women.

“Democratic women are going to be more energized to turn out overall, because what’s going on on the other side of the aisle is so far removed from their own beliefs,” she said.

All of this adds to the pressure on Romney and the Republicans planning next week’s convention.