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Gingrich defends Akin’s right to stay in Senate race

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times –

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich broke with Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders Sunday by defending the right of Missouri Rep. Todd Akin to stay in the Senate race despite his widely condemned remarks on rape and pregnancy.

“I just think people ought to be a little cautious about saying the voters of Missouri don’t count,” Gingrich said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Akin, a “tea party”-backed candidate who won the Republican primary last month to challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, has rejected calls by Romney and other top party officials to step aside.

In an interview last month on a local Fox station, Akin was asked if abortion should be legal in cases of rape.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said, referring to conception after rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

After widespread criticism, Akin backed away from his erroneous comments about biology. Two days later, he apologized for the “legitimate rape” characterization.

Republicans had made McCaskill a prime target in their effort to regain control of the Senate, but after the Akin firestorm erupted, they all but gave up hope. Akin’s remarks played into President Barack Obama’s efforts to portray the GOP as waging a “war on women.”

Romney, a former supporter of abortion rights, now opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to a mother’s life. The party platform endorses a “human life amendment” to the Constitution and opposes abortion without exception.

On “Meet the Press” Sunday, Gingrich said Republicans would be in a stronger position in the abortion debate if the media gave more attention to what he described as the extremism of the Democratic Party’s stance on the issue.

“I think Todd Akin was the choice of the people of Missouri, and Todd Akin has publicly apologized,” said Gingrich, who unsuccessfully challenged Romney for the presidential nomination.

Gingrich also condemned Republican strategist Karl Rove for joking to a crowd of party donors last week in Tampa, Fla., that if Akin were “found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts.”

“In the age of Gabby Giffords, it is not a joke to say that a member of Congress ought to get murdered,” Gingrich said, alluding to a January 2011 shooting in Tucson that left six people dead and 13 wounded, including Giffords, then an Arizona congresswoman.

At the same time, he acknowledged that Rove had apologized. “It should remind us,” Gingrich said, “people make mistakes.”

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