Republican who shocked US defies calls to quit key Senate race

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The Republican candidate whose remarks on abortion and rape have created a national uproar was yesterday still refusing to withdraw from his pivotal Senate race in Missouri, despite demands from infuriated and embarrassed party leaders and the loss of millions of dollars of campaign funding.

Normally such pressure would instantly end a candidacy. From Mitt Romney down, the Republican establishment has disowned him, urging Congressman Todd Akin to make way for another challenger to face incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, whose seat the Republicans were banking on in their bid to regain control of the Senate in November.

Under Missouri's election laws, Mr Akin had until 5pm local time yesterday to pull out without facing a legal or financial penalty. But he remained defiant, proclaiming that he was "not a quitter", and even recording a new television ad in which he asks voters to forgive him, but repeats his comprehensive opposition to abortion.

Mr Akin was clearly banking on the strong support he still appears to enjoy in his home state from social conservatives, who carried him to an upset victory in the 7 August primary against two more-favoured candidates. But for the national party, the episode is an unmitigated disaster.

The timing is terrible, just five days before Republicans convene in Tampa, Florida, to crown Mr Romney as their nominee. Not only does it distract attention from the economic issues on which Republicans believe they can defeat Barack Obama, it also came just as the party's policy committee, meeting in Tampa, approved platform language backing a constitutional amendment that outlaws abortion with no specific exceptions for rape or incest – which is more or less the basic position of Mr Akin.

The episode risks further alienating women voters, among whom President Obama's Republican challenger trails by more than 20 per cent, according to some polls. It also turns the spotlight on the rigidly anti-abortion views of Paul Ryan, Mr Romney's running mate. The two men have reportedly spoken since the row erupted. Whether Mr Ryan too suggested Mr Akin withdraw is not clear.

Most alarming of all perhaps for Republicans is the prospect that, if he stays in the race, Mr Akin could cost them not just the Missouri seat, but overall control of the Senate as well. Republicans need a net gain of four seats, and Ms McCaskill has long been considered the most vulnerable Democrat, running in an increasingly Republican state, where she is increasingly unpopular, and only narrowly won in 2006. But against so discredited an opponent she clearly reckons she now has a chance. Thus the weird spectacle of a Democrat lauding the qualities of Mr Akin, as Ms McCaskill was doing yesterday – in a bid to persuade social conservatives not to desert their man.

The remarks that generated the firestorm came in a television interview on Sunday, in which Mr Akin raised the notion of "legitimate rape", and suggested that the female body had a mechanism to prevent women who were raped from getting pregnant – in the Congressman's words, "to shut that whole thing down".

The Republican Senatorial Committee and a leading party-advocacy group, Crossroads GPS, meanwhile, both announced they were halting funding for the candidate, depriving him of a potential $10m.

In his new advert, Mr Akin acknowledges that "rape is an evil act… I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologise."

Mea culpa Akin in his own words

"Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologise."

"As a father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault, and I pray for them."

"The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness."

'Rape can lead to the birth of great people'

When former Arkansas Govern-or Mike Huckabee invited Todd Akin on his radio show on Monday, he no doubt intended to lend the Congressman a hand out of the hole he had dug for himself, after he opined a link between pregnancy and rape. But, Mr Huckabee ended up sparking a furore of his own, suggesting that in some circumstances, rape leads to the birth of estimable people: "Ethel Waters [the late singer], for example, was the result of a forcible rape… And yet even from those horrible, horrible tragedies, which are inexcusable and indefensible, life has come and sometimes, you know, those people are able to do extraordinary things."

Nikhil Kumar