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[Newsmaker] Rape comments make U.S. candidate a party pariah

U.S. Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin has provided a clear reminder of the effect a few words can have on an individual’s political fate.

Akin’s comments during an abortion debate that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancy after a “legitimate rape” have drawn fire from all sides.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was the latest Republican to call on him to quit his challenge for a senate seat in Missouri.

Earlier, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and four former Republican senators from the state issued a statement saying they “do not believe it serves the national interest” for Akin to continue in the election.

His campaign has also suffered financially, with the $5 million earmarked by the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee withdrawn and other backers pulling out.
Todd Akin, U.S. Republican Senate candidate
Todd Akin, U.S. Republican Senate candidate

So far, Akin has shown no sign of giving up. On Tuesday, he released a YouTube video apologizing for his comments.

“Fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. 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,” he said.

But the apology may not be enough. Akin still leads his opponent Sen. Claire McCaskill by 1 percentage point, according to a poll released by Public Policy Polling on Monday, but the controversy has handed his challenger a new line of attack.

Moreover, the debate has become one on how Akin’s words will affect the overall senate race. The comments have given a clear opportunity to the Democrats. While Republicans worked to distance themselves from their own candidate, Obama scored easy political points, pointing out that “rape is rape.”

Republicans may find it difficult to separate themselves effectively from Akin’s comments. Limits on abortion rights are widely supported by party members, and party Rep. Ron Paul embarrassed himself earlier this year with comments about “honest rape.”

If the party cannot improve the way its members communicate on rape and abortion, it will remain a point of attack.

Not only Akin’s political fate is at stake. The controversy may pose a bigger risk to the party than Akin himself.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)
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