Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin enjoyed a five-point lead in the polls before he appeared on a local television program Sunday and spoke about his stance that women who are legitimately raped rarely wind up pregnant.
Now, not only has Akin put himself at risk, but Republicans in embattled Senate and House races across the country are quickly distancing themselves from Akin, trying to keep the "war on women" that plagued many campaigns earlier this summer from rearing its ugly head.
Many Republicans in tight races know the comment could hurt them as they have already been criticized that while the country's economy floundered, Congressional Republicans took up a series of hot-button votes this summer on abortion.
The House voted on legislation that would have banned sex-selective abortions in May. Before Congress left for August recess, the house spent hours debating a bill that would have restricted abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia.
"These sorts of issues play into Democrats' hands, and for a Republican running for a key Senate race, it could be dangerous," says Kyle Kondik, a political analyst for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "Republicans realize they have a weakness on women's issues especially if they get roped in with what Akin said."
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who faces re-election against Elizabeth Warren in November, suggested Akin should give up his party's nomination in the Missouri Senate race.
"As a husband and father of two young women, I found Todd Akin's comments about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate and wrong," Brown said in a release. "There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking. Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin's statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri."
In Virginia, Republican Senate candidate, former governor George Allen also pounced on Akin's controversial comments.
"While Congressman Akin may have addressed his statement, like many men and women, I strongly disapprove of his original comments. Having served on a Rape Crisis Board many years ago, I saw how both physically and emotionally harmful rape is for its victims, and this is why I believe there should be an exception for rape," Allen said. "Regardless of party, we all have a responsibility to unite against any leniency on crimes against women and turn our focus to the solutions that make America stronger and safer."
Allen faced criticism earlier this year for refusing to comment on a contentious abortion law passed in the Virginia State Assembly that requires women seeking abortions to first receive an invasive ultrasound.
In Senate races out West, two current Congressmen are engaging in the discourse over Akin's statement.
In Montana, Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, wasted no time expressing his disgust for Akin's position.
"I find Representative Akin's remarks to be offensive and reprehensible," Rehberg says. "There is no such thing as a 'legitimate rape.' I condemn Representative Akin's statements."
North Dakota Republican Rep. Rick Berg, who is running for re-election against the state's former attorney general, Heidi Heitkamp, said, "I find Congressman Akin's comments insulting and reprehensible. His statements are beyond inexcusable and I condemn them in the strongest terms possible."
Throughout the election, Heitkamp has tried to frame Berg as out of touch with women. Her campaign launched a petition this summer in an attempt to capitalize on her opponent's affiliation with the House's controversial votes, and claims that there is "an all-out war on women" taking place in Congress.
Kondik says candidates who have been criticized for being anti-women could show a moderate side by going after Akin.
"Akin's comments were so extreme, it is an easy out to say you don't agree," Kondik says. "Maybe this can be an opportunity to separate themselves from some of the extreme images."
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