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Controversial Akin comment on rape sparks firestorm

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), a candidate for Senate in Missouri, offered a controversial explanation for why he is against abortion in an interview posted on Sunday that quickly sparked a firestorm online and prompted some to wonder whether Republicans might need to look for a new candidate.

Akin said in an interview with St. Louis-area station KTVI that he believed pregnancy from rape was rare because of biological reactions to "legitimate rape."

"It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," he said.

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Akin added that if pregnancy did occur, there should be repercussions for the rapist, but not the unborn fetus.

"Let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment. But the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child," he said.

Quickly, Akin's comments took off on Twitter, with "legitimate rape" becoming a trending topic on Sunday afternoon. Incumbent Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tweeted that she was "stunned" by Akin's remarks.

"As a woman & former prosecutor who handled 100s of rape cases,I'm stunned by Rep Akin's comments about victims this AM," she tweeted. Her campaign later issued a release in which McCaskill called Akin's statement "offensive."

In response, Akin's campaign released a statement in which Akin said that he "misspoke," but stood by his opposition to abortion.

"In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year," he said.

"I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."

Akin was Democrats' favored candidate to win the Republican nomination in Missouri because of his tendency towards controversial off-the-cuff remarks such as this one. He has previously compared the federal student loan program to cancer, and recently suggested the federal government should stop supporting school lunch programs and instead have states handle the matter.

But Akin has maintained a steady lead over McCaskill in a race that many Republicans consider a likely win for the party, with the last poll giving Akin an 11-point lead.

His comments from Sunday's interview, however, led GOP consultant Patrick Ruffini, who worked on George W. Bush's presidential campaign, to wonder whether it might be necessary for Missouri Republicans to find a new candidate.

"I imagine Akin's fundraising will now dry up. It'll be difficult for national donors to take him seriously in what should be one of our best hopes for a pickup. His response stating he 'misspoke' shows a certain political tone-deafness and that he is not willing to do what he needs to do to rectify the damage from this," he said in an email.

By the evening, Akin's comments had made a big enough splash that Mitt Romney's campaign thought it prudent to release a statement distancing the GOP presidential candidate and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), from them.

"Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," the statement said.

Missouri remains solidly red, and McCaskill only won the state by a little more than 2 percent in 2006; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won it in 2008. Republican strategist Jeff Roe, who worked on Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R) and Rick Perry's campaigns, said Akin shouldn't have any trouble fundraising because of McCaskill's notoriety among Republicans nationwide, indicating outside groups could continue to play a large role in this race.

"I consult congressional and senatorial candidates across the country and there is no Democrat better known and more despised than Claire McCaskill," he said.

Roe added that come Labor Day, when the race really begins to heat up, these comments will be but a memory.

"I don't think its a positive development for the campaign, but I believe he's still in the driver's seat. It's his race to lose," he said.

—This article was posted at 6:07 p.m. and updated at 9:03 p.m.