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Akin is feeling more GOP heat to exit Missouri’s Senate race

By Bill Lambrecht, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

TAMPA, Fla. — Republican Party leaders confounded by Todd Akin are proceeding with a campaign of public pressure while attempting to recruit Akin’s allies to help change the embattled congressman’s mind about leaving Missouri’s Senate race.

Akin’s remarks nearly two weeks ago about abortion and rape continue to come up at the Republican National Convention this week, with party leaders unified in trying to force him to drop his challenge of Sen. Claire McCaskill.

But those efforts appear to have hardened the resolve by Akin to remain in the race. The Akin campaign was especially angered by GOP National Chairman Reince Priebus’ assertion this week that even if Akin and McCaskill were tied in their contest, “we’re not going to send him a penny.”

On Wednesday, Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, asserted that Akin “is not a suitable candidate for office right now.”

Responding to a question at a public forum, Jesmer said Akin “is a good and decent man and has served his country well, and I think he shouldn’t throw away his career based on one sentence.”

Jesmer said he had seldom seen a case like the push for Akin to leave with unanimity between party leaders and “right-wing talk shows and conservative circles.”

“There’s not one poll that suggests he can win, either that he has produced or a third-party independent poll,” he said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., brought up Akin in a conference call with reporters this week. “It’s a privilege to have the nomination of your party, and if you abuse that privilege like Mr. Akin has, you need to do the right thing,” he said.

Pressure from Republicans is rooted in the intense battle to control the Senate next year and their belief, right or wrong, that the GOP would have won the Senate in 2010 had leaders been more forceful about shaping Senate contests with mainstream Republican candidates.

Even though Akin has apologized, Republicans are convinced that Democrats will benefit greatly from Akin’s reference to “legitimate rape” and his assertion that the female body can shut down pregnancy after a rape.

Republicans believe they already have suffered from the national attention to Missouri before the nominating convention, when political coverage would have focused on the party’s message and Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate.

And they continue to hear assessments that their goal of gaining the four seats needed to retake the Senate is in jeopardy with Missouri out of reach.

For instance, Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the independent Cook Political Report, asserted at a National Journal forum in Tampa on Wednesday that “Missouri is off the table and they (Republicans) have got to find another, more circuitous route” to Senate control.

Behind the scenes, Republicans are working virtually around the clock trying to force Akin out of the race by reaching out to Akin’s allies in social conservative circles, hoping they can persuade him to change his mind.

But Akin shows no sign of relenting. On Wednesday, his campaign began airing two new ads, one on the Internet, drawing contrasts with McCaskill.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch/News 4 poll published on Sunday showed Akin’s support plummeting and McCaskill leading by 9 percentage points.

But the Akin campaign pointed on Wednesday to a poll by an Ohio company — sponsored by the Family Research Council, one of Akin’s longtime allies — showing him leading McCaskill, 45-42 percent. The survey of 829 likely voters on Aug. 27-28 by Wenzel Strategies was said to have an error margin of no more than 3.4 percent.

“We’re not backing down, and we’re moving forward,” said Akin spokesman Ryan Hite.

Those sentiments were displayed Tuesday in a response to Priebus’ statement that the party would funnel no money to Akin even if he and McCaskill were tied. “You’re not always the person who has to be the guy,” Priebus also said, referring to Akin.

Perry Akin, the congressman’s son and campaign manager, said that Priebus’ assertion “betrays his apparent personal vendetta against Todd Akin. He is putting party power and political games ahead of the good of the country.”

Besides challenging McCaskill, Akin is taking on “party elites” in the campaign. Allies insist that he is in the race to stay and that party leaders mistakenly believe that his departure would end the offensive by Democrats related to women’s issues.

“You can’t make what they are afraid of go away by Akin getting out,” said an Akin adviser, who requested anonymity to speak freely. “Staying in this race is the only path of redemption for Todd — and the only way Republicans win.”

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