* Republican digs heels in despite heavy pressure
* Poll shows Akin still slightly ahead of Democrat McCaskill
* Long list of possible successors if he leaves
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Aug 21 Congressman Todd Akin, under
fire for controversial remarks on abortion and rape, insisted on
Tuesday he would not leave the Missouri Senate race, despite
pressure from fellow Republicans and talk of who might replace
him on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Akin - a staunch abortion opponent - vowed to stay in the
contest against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, indicating
he represents a conservative movement that must be heard.
A 5 p.m. local time (6 p.m. EDT) deadline passed with no
indication he planned to take his name off the ballot.
Akin was defiant. His campaign posted a new web site on
Tuesday seeking donations with a banner "I'm pro-life and I
Stand with Todd Akin." It had briefly featured a picture of a
fetus and a picture of McCaskill with U.S. President Barack
Obama, but the fetus image was later removed.
"We are going to continue in this race for U.S. Senate,"
Akin told "The Mike Huckabee Show," a radio program hosted by
the former Arkansas governor.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday
joined the chorus calling for him to pull out of his race after
Akin claimed in a weekend television interview that it was
extremely rare for women to get pregnant from "legitimate rape."
"Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and
I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate
race," said Romney, who previously condemned Akin's comments.
The outrage over Akin's remarks sent waves of anxiety
through the Republican Party a week before it reaches out to
independent voters, especially women, at its national convention
where it will nominate Romney to run against Obama.
Republicans fear the Akin episode could prevent them from
winning in Missouri, lessening their chances of picking up the
four seats they need ensure a majority in the 100-member Senate.
McCaskill had trailed Akin by about 10 points but a Public
Policy Polling survey on Monday had Akin ahead by 1 point.
WHAT ABOUT JOBS?
To the dismay of many Republicans, Akin's woes have cast a
spotlight on a part of the platform party members again endorsed
on Tuesday: a call to oppose abortion with no mention of
exceptions in cases of rape and incest.
That is not the position of Romney, who has said abortion
should be allowed to end pregnancies resulting from rape or
Obama, who supports abortion rights, also strongly denounced
Akin's remarks, saying "rape is rape."
Romney's vice presidential running mate, U.S. Representative
Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has expressed a harder line on abortion,
saying it should be allowed only to save the life of the mother.
The campaign said this week a Romney/Ryan administration would
reflect Romney's position.
Ryan, who has co-sponsored anti-abortion legislation with
Akin, called the Missouri candidate and suggested he think about
leaving the Senate contest. "He thought I maybe should give some
thought to stepping down, but he didn't tell me what to do. And
that's because he's a very respectful and a very decent guy,"
Akin said on the Sean Hannity radio program.
The controversy is a distraction in a campaign Romney has
sought to keep tightly focused on the economy and jobs.
Tim Wildmon, president of the influential American Family
Association, was one of several social conservatives who have
come to Akin's defense.
"This is a decent, honorable man who has been pro-life and
pro-traditional values. He has apologized for his choice of
words and that should be the end of it," Wildmon said.
Although religious conservatives are a crucial part of the
Republican base, many party leaders say its central message
should be its conservative approach to fiscal issues like debt
"It's not that we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. We
keep shooting ourselves in the eyes," said former Missouri
Senator John Danforth, one of a group of current and former U.S.
senators from the state who urged Akin to step aside.
WHERE TO FIND A WOMAN SUCCESSOR
Under Missouri election law, Akin had until 5 p.m. local
time (6 p.m. EDT) to get his name off the ballot for the Nov. 6
election most easily. But he faces a harder deadline on Sept.
25, the last day his name can be removed with a court order.
If Akin withdraws, the Missouri Republican committee would
name a successor to run against McCaskill. Possible candidates
include the two Republicans Akin defeated in the primary just
two weeks ago - St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former
state Senator Sarah Steelman.
But the party can pick any candidate.
Other possibilities include former Senator Jim Talent, who
lost narrowly to McCaskill in 2006 and Representative Jo Ann
Emerson, considered a favorite because many Republicans think
the party would best reassure women voters by running a woman.
In another sign that he is not leaving, US News and World
Report reported that Akin spent $150,000 on Tuesday for
television advertisements in seven media markets.
But he will struggle to keep up with McCaskill, especially
after the Karl Rove-linked American Crossroads Super PAC and the
Republican Senate committee said they would hold back millions
in funding earmarked for the race.
McCaskill's campaign is using Akin's comments in its
fundraising. Emily's List, which supports Democratic women
candidates, said it has seen a big jump in fundraising.
Akin apologized again in an Internet advertisement called
"Forgiveness." And he sent a fundraising letter to supporters on
Tuesday asking for donations of $3 or more.