By Cameron Joseph - 08/28/12 08:00 PM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. — Republican Party leaders mishandled their response to Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) "legitimate rape" gaffe and should reconsider their decision to stay out of the race, a pair of top social conservatives told The Hill on Tuesday at the Republican National Convention.
"I think it was a mistake not to get the leaders in Missouri lined up before they went up and looked overly heavy-handed in the way they were pushing him," social conservative leader and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R) told The Hill.
Blackwell said Phyllis Schlafly and Tony Perkins had both told him on Tuesday that they'd talked to Akin in the last 24 hours and had no doubt he was resolute about staying in the race despite the Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee both saying they wouldn't spend a dime on his behalf. Mitt Romney has called for Akin to drop out, as have a few other social conservatives, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).
"I've encouraged people at the Senatorial Committee to wait about five days and do a poll and see if things have stabilized. If things have, they might want to readjust," he said. "Senatorial committees can do anything. it is not as if some of the damage they've done can be papered over but they can reverse themselves on it."
Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, another top social conservative, echoed Bauer's criticisms.
"When you run into a problem with a candidate the preferable way to handle it always is privately first. The problem is they went public first," he said.
Bauer didn't defend Akin's remarks that in cases of "legitimate rape" women rarely get pregnant, but said they should be weighed against his record as a "solid Reagan conservative" and said the GOP should reconsider its decision to throw him under the bus.
"If you want to win the United States Senate you've got to run every competitive race — we'll see how at this point they handle it if he doesn't drop out. If he stays in the race we shouldn't let a very unpopular senator get off scott free because our candidate made a very significant but nonetheless verbal mistake.
NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill earlier Tuesday afternoon that he hadn't talked to Akin since "since shortly after the incident," around the time that the NRSC publicly disavowed the remarks and strongly suggested he should drop out.
An NRSC spokesman declined to comment on Blackwell and Bauer's comments.
Akin has badly trailed Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in two recent polls of the race and establishment Republicans privately said they see no chance for his numbers to recover. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on Tuesday that even if Akin recovered to pull even with McCaskill "we're not going to send him a penny."
Akin responded by accusing Priebus of a "personal vendetta" and for "putting party power and political games ahead of the good of the country."