- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2012

DEXTER, Mo. — Standing before about 65 people gathered in the back room of Hickory Log Restaurant and Lounge, Rep. W. Todd Akin nodded to a man in a striped yellow shirt who had raised his hand.

“As a Christian, I want to thank you so much for standing up and for not bowing,” the man said. “I apologize for those who maybe threw you under the bus.”

Mr. Akin interjected — “I’m still holding on to the bumper,” prompting laughter.

The beleaguered Republican hit the campaign trail last week for the first time since the infamous interview that put him at odds with his party’s leaders and initially appeared to doom his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Four weeks ago, he told a local television station that women’s bodies have ways of rejecting pregnancies if they are victims of “legitimate rape,” prompting wide condemnation from politicians across the political spectrum and leading his party’s top officials to demand that he quit the race and let them replace him.

Appalled at his comments and fearing he could cost the party what had been an excellent chance to capture a Democratic seat, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee withdrew all financial support.

It was hoping to replace him with one of his two primary opponents, both of whom appeared to have a better chance of beating Ms. McCaskill, according to polls taken even before Mr. Akin’s controversial comment.

But the opposition seems to have only energized the six-term congressman from the St. Louis suburbs, who kicked off each of his stump speeches Friday by declaring his independence from the “party bosses.”

“A couple weeks ago, I felt like I parachuted into the middle of a hurricane,” he told the audience at Hickory Log.

He has apologized multiple times for the comment and now says he got the medical facts wrong but insists that bowing out would disenfranchise the Republican voters who chose him in a competitive August primary.

“Over the years I’ve served in elected office, my rule of thumb has been, ‘What’s the principle, what’s the right thing to do?’ And the dickens with the politics,” he said.

It’s a lonely campaign trail for Mr. Akin, with even the state GOP keeping a frigid distance after nearly every major Republican in Washington denounced him for continuing his bid.

Mr. Akin received a warmer reception among local Republican groups that hosted him at campaign stops Friday. Still, party officials acknowledge there has been hesitancy. The Butler County Republican Central Committee rescinded its invitation for him to speak at its Reagan Day festivities.

The decision angered Carol Beam, who serves as the party chairwoman one county over in Stoddard. Ms. Beam said she called Butler County GOP Chairman Eddy Justice when she heard the news.

“I was mad, I was mad, I called Eddy Justice and I was just furious with him,” she said. “But I feel like they’re coming around, too.”

The same battle rages in Washington, where some within the religious right are rallying around Mr. Akin.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which sponsors the Values Voter Summit, told reporters last week that Mr. Akin would be addressing the event this past weekend — though the congressman’s campaign disputed that, and Mr. Akin did not end up speaking.

Still, Mr. Perkins was effusive in his praise, saying he was “not going to abandon my friend.” He did say, however, that he disagreed with how the congressman “communicated” his message in the interview.

“We’re not here to support Republicans or Democrats; we’re here to support those who will stand up for life, marriage and the family, and I’m disappointed in some in the political establishment who are quick to cut and run when somebody gets in trouble,” Mr. Perkins said.

Mr. Akin has ground to make up at home, having seen a lead in the polls evaporate. The Real Clear Politics average of polls in the race now shows Ms. McCaskill leading by 5.3 percentage points.

The congressman started off Friday in Butler County, where he stumped at the Gamma HealthCare center in Poplar Bluff, followed by stops in Dexter, Sikeston and Cape Girardeau, spending the day in the southeastern part of the state.

He stuck to a similar speech outline: denouncing the party establishment, then switching to attack Ms. McCaskill over taxes, abortion, the Wall Street bailout and the national health care law, while highlighting his conservative voting record.

“Sometimes in politics you’ve got Tweedledee and Tweedledum and you say, ‘I don’t want one of these, I don’t want either one of them,’” he said. “Let me tell you, you’ve got a choice between me and Claire McCaskill.”

Mr. Akin defended his decision to keep mentioning his comments about rape, saying he needs to explain to voters why he has chosen to continue running. But his repeated references to the incident have raised eyebrows among some Republicans who say he needs to make the campaign about Ms. McCaskill if he wants any chance of gaining back his lost ground before November.

“Far be it from me to give advice to the congressman who’s running for senator,” said Steve Cookson, a state representative who introduced Mr. Akin in Poplar Bluff. “I think, though, the quicker we can put it in the past — there’s an old saying that today’s news is tomorrow’s bird cage liner. Let it be bird cage liner, and let’s move on.”

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