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Akin raises funds while Democrats try to capitalize

By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Todd Akin’s decision to remain in the Senate race in Missouri has sparked a fundraising sprint as religious conservatives stand with the candidate and Democrats try to link GOP congressional candidates elsewhere to his strict anti-abortion views and “legitimate rape” comment.

Akin’s campaign said it beat its one-day, $125,000 fundraising goal, topping $150,000 — the amount Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill had sought to pick up as the two go head-to-head into the election.

The Republican’s defiance of Mitt Romney and top party leaders who wanted him to step down — worried his views would snare the party in a national fight over social issues — has splintered the GOP’s fiscal and religious conservatives.

“There is a vast, but mostly quiet army of people who have an innate sense of fairness and don’t like to see a fellow political pilgrim bullied,” said Mike Huckabee, the former GOP presidential candidate and now conservative radio host who has been one of Akin’s most prominent supporters.

Because party leaders yanked funding for Akin’s campaign, the candidate now needs to rely on other sources — namely his base of supporters among religious conservatives.

In a fundraising push, Akin sought to link Rush Limbaugh to his cause, after the conservative radio show host noted “are lot of people think Todd Akin is being mistreated,” according to an email from the campaign.

The Missouri race had been the GOP’s best opportunity to defeat an incumbent Democratic senator as the party seeks to wrest control of the chamber, but analysts now say it will be difficult for Akin to recover politically from his comments and they give McCaskill better odds at holding on.

Akin’s comments during an interview last weekend, when he said pregnancy “rarely” results from “legitimate rape” threw his party into turmoil. Akin has repeatedly said he misspoke and apologized for the comments, even as he touted support from a top anti-abortion leader who promoted such views.

“Make no mistake — this is going to be a close election,” McCaskill said in a fundraising appeal this week. “Akin has been drawing on a massive nationwide outpouring of grassroots right-wing support.”

Democratic strategists have been trying to link GOP candidates elsewhere to their past support for Akin’s positions, particularly a bill approved by the House last year that sought to limit federal funds for abortion.

“Recent controversial comments against women are reminding Montanans of Congressman Dennis Rehberg’s wrong priorities when it comes to women’s health care and the right of women to make their own health care decisions,” read a release from Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s campaign. The legislation initially sought to redefine rape as “forcible rape,” though that language was eventually deleted. The bill stalled in the Senate.

Activists in Colorado called on GOP Rep. Mike Coffman “to apologize for his co-sponsorship of the infamous ‘redefining rape’ bill,” according to the statement from ProgressNow Colorado.

Many Republican rank-and-file lawmakers have distanced themselves from Akin, with senators and representatives calling on him step aside.

Akin could still withdraw from the race by Sept. 25, according to Missouri law, which would give party leaders time to nominate another candidate.

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