Republicans are more worried about gaining control of the Senate now that one of their best prospects for gaining a seat made a gaffe that seemed to question the credibility of rape victims. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was leading by 11 percentage points, according to one poll, in his bid to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. In an interview over the weekend, though, he said that "legitimate rape" victims rarely get pregnant. He later said that he "misspoke."
With 47 Senate seats currently under their control, Republicans need a net gain of four seats to win the Senate. (If both parties have 50 seats, control will go to the party that wins the presidency.)
According to RealClearPolitics.com, there are currently nine Senate races that are too close to call. Six of them are currently controlled by Democrats (Fla., Mo., Mont., N.D., Va. and Wisc.) and three are currently controlled by Republicans (Ind., Mass. and Nev.). (Among the safe seats, Maine will likely switch from Republican to Democrat and Nebraska will likely switch from Democrat to Republican.) This means that if Republicans were to lose two of their seats in either Indiana, Massachusetts or Nevada, they would have to win all of the other contests that are too close to call, including Missouri.
Nate Silver, an election forecaster who blogs for The New York Times, had listed Akin as a slight favorite before the weekend. Based upon previous similar gaffes, Silver predicts that Akin could lose about 10 percentage points. Based upon an average of recent polls, this would switch him from a five percentage point lead to five percentage points behind McCaskill.
This may explain why reactions from some Republicans to Akin's gaffe were swift and sharp.
"Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," Romney told National Review in an interview posted Monday morning. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) called on Akin to apologize and resign from his Senate race.
"There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking," Brown said.
According to National Journal, John Brunner, a wealthy businessman who ran against Akin in a three-way race for the nomination, has already been making phone calls to build support in the event that Akin drops out.
Akin's comment was in response to a question about abortion in the case of rape.
"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Akin said.
In the statement where he said he "misspoke" with use of the phrase "legitimate rape," Akin reiterated his opposition to abortion in the case of rape.
"I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action," Akin said.
In a statement to The Huffington Post on Sunday, the Romney campaign reiterated its support for abortion rights for rape victims, saying, "a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape."
Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, has previously stated his opposition to abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother.
Susan B. Anthony's List, a pro-life advocacy organization, stated its support for Akin in a Monday press release.
"Congressman Akin, a longtime pro-life leader, has said he had misspoken, and no one is arguing that rape is anything but a despicable, horrible crime," said Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List.
"Abortion supporters like Sen. Claire McCaskill are trying to use this issue as a smokescreen to hide from their radical, pro-abortion records that are out of step with the majority of Missourians and the American people. On the issues of taxpayer funding of elective abortion in Obamacare, protection of unborn girls being targeted in the womb solely because of their gender, and whether children capable of feeling pain in the womb should be protected, President Obama and Senator McCaskill have been on the wrong side, showing that they favor abortion on-demand, for any reason, up to the moment of birth, subsidized by the taxpayers."
According to a 1996 National Institutes of Health study, an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.