Missouri Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin and his wife, Lulli… (Jeff Roberson / Associated…)
KIRKWOOD, Mo. -- Top conservatives announced their support for Missouri Republican Todd Akin's embattled campaign for Senate, some reversing course after having earlier called for him to step down following his "legitimate rape" remarks.
Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint jointly gave their backing Wednesday after a final deadline passed for Akin to withdraw from the ballot. And Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, a party leader in the Senate, quietly dropped his previous opposition to Akin's candidacy, and said he would support his fellow Missourian.
With Republicans struggling in their effort to pick up the four seats needed wrest control of the Senate this fall, some in the party have calculated that they must back Akin if they hope to win the majority. Missouri has represented perhaps their best opportunity to defeat an incumbent, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
For the Record, 9:55 a.m. Sept. 26:
The headline for an earlier version of this online article misspelled Rick Santorum's last name as Santroum.
"If Republicans are to win back the Senate and stop President Obama's liberal agenda, we must defeat Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri," Santorum and DeMint said in a joint statement sent to donors and posted on Facebook. "Todd Akin is a principled conservative who is committed to winning and fighting for freedom in the U.S. Senate."
The support from members of the fiscal and social conservative flanks of the party now throws open the question of whether other GOP leaders in Washington and Missouri will follow.
Akin was under pressure to quit from the top tiers of the GOP. Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of campaign efforts, all said last month that he should withdraw. Lesser known elected officials, activists and Republican candidates echoed the call.
As Akin has pressed on, he has used his party's opposition to his campaign as a badge of honor, issuing fundraising appeals that portray him in an uphill battle against the establishment over his socially conservative principles.
The six-term congressman has apologized for suggesting that women rarely get pregnant from "legitimate rape," saying he used the "wrong words." He opposes abortion in virtually all cases, including rape and incest.
McCaskill has been quiet on the campaign trail this week, but released two new ads, one slamming Akin for past comments on that issue.
Her campaign also issued a fundraising appeal to donors minutes after Akin cleared the deadline to remain in the race.
Funding remains a struggle for Akin, whose campaign has pulled in $650,000 in online donations alone the past month, officials said, but needs multiple times that to wage a serious effort in Missouri.
DeMint's political action committee has been weighing whether to support Akin, as it has other tea party candidates, but has not yet made any decisions, an official said.
The conservative senator's support came after Akin had insisted he opposed earmarks -- the congressionally directed pet-project spending now banned in Congress, and a top issue for DeMint.
Blunt's about-face came late Tuesday, after the deadline to withdraw had passed.
"Akin and I don’t agree on everything, but he and I agree the Senate majority must change," Blunt said in a statement. "I'll be working for the Republican ticket in Missouri, and that includes Todd Akin."
Last month, Blunt had joined the state's former Republican senators -- John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, John Danforth and Jim Talent -- in calling for Akin to step aside after made the rape comments.
Former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich predicted this week that by October, most of Akin's past financial backers would return to the campaign -- saying they had a "moral obligation" to help the party defeat McCaskill and win the Senate.
McCaskill has a deep war chest in what Democrats say remains a difficult campaign as she seeks a second term representing the Republican-leaning state.
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