Obama exploits Republican rape gaffe in Congress race


As Republicans struggle to regain their footing in the storm unleashed by comments on rape made by a conservative congressman from Missouri, President Barack Obama has signalled that he intends to give them no help with biting remarks delivered at a New York fundraiser.

Taking up the cudgel before donors in Manhattan, Mr Obama took direct aim at US Senate candidate Todd Akin, who has resisted calls from the leadership of his own party to abandon his campaign to win what should be a competitive seat in the US Senate representing Missouri.

The controversy, which threatens to wreck attempts by the Republican Party to present a united front at its convention in Tampa next week, exploded when Mr Akin responded to questions from an interviewer about abortion suggesting that in cases of "legitimate rape", a woman's body has a way to "shut that whole thing down" so that pregnancy rarely ensues.

While Mr Akin's words have been condemned by leaders from both sides of the aisle, they continue to dominate conversation because his staunch anti-abortion stance, however clumsily expressed, is supported by the newly influential Tea Party and conservative rump in the party. Moreover, he and Paul Ryan, the number two on the ticket, have in the past co-sponsored legislation to restrict abortion rights.

It is Mr Akin's seniority on a particular House committee that caught Mr Obama's eye. "The interesting thing here is that this is an individual who sits on the House committee on science and technology but somehow missed science class," the President said. "But it's representative of a desire to go backwards instead of forwards. And fights that we thought were settled 20, 30 years ago."

Mr Akin may yet find he find himself forced to pull out of the Missouri race as the Republican leadership starves him of support and cash.

The furore has so far been a gift to Democrats, who were already trying to paint Mitt Romney as the leader of a party that is deaf to women's reproductive rights and to their interests in general.