WASHINGTON -- Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) warned top Republican officials on Monday that any efforts to push Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) out of the Senate race against her, following his galling remarks about "legitimate" rape victims not getting pregnant, would backfire.
"I think for Washington party insiders to come in and try to invalidate the votes of Missourians would be radical," McCaskill said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "I think that would be a very radical thing to have happen, and I can't imagine how the Republican primary voters would think about that in Missouri."
"I think there would be a significant backlash," she added. "I'm not sure that would have a good ending for the Republican Party."
The comments were some of the first McCaskill has made in the wake of Akin's interview with KTVI-TV, in which he said that doctors had told him it was rare for rape to result in pregnancy.
"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," said Akin, who was explaining the basis of his rigid pro-life stance. "But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist."
On Sunday night, Akin said he had misspoken, but did not disavow his remarks or explain where he had received the information on which they were based. By Monday morning, top Republican officials were calling on him to resign, with strategist Mike Murphy summarizing the sentiment in a tweet: "Akin should put good of GOP first and resign nomination now after his idiotic comment. Senate control too important."
McCaskill challenged Akin to name a doctor who would actually back up his claim, saying his comments were born from a deep ignorance of women's issues.
"I have a hard time imagining a woman uttering the phrase 'legitimate rape,'" McCaskill said. "It is not something that would ever come out of a woman's mouth, because it is something every woman is fearful of. I think every woman knows someone who has had to deal with sexual assault."
McCaskill noted that she herself dealt with rape cases as a former prosecutor.
"I think if you've never been afraid of being raped, if it is never been anything you've worried about, then maybe you just don't think clearly about it," she said. "If you have any sense of how women's anatomy works, it would be hard to justify the ignorance he showed by claiming that a doctor told him that."
The senator, who trailed Akin in polls prior to the incident, said she has had a "robust" response to the controversy her opponent's comments sparked. She was initially alerted to them via an email from her staff Sunday and spent the rest of the day responding to emails and press requests.
The fallout has since moved beyond the confines of the Show Me State, becoming national news that has led to statements of rebuke from Senate candidates and even the Republican presidential ticket. The Democratic National Committee on Monday morning sent out an email attempting to tie Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to the issue, pointing out that "Ryan was one of more than 200 Republican cosponsors of a piece of legislation that would have narrowed the definition of rape."
McCaskill argued that Akin's statement was symptomatic of a larger GOP insensitivity toward women's health.
"Obviously, you look at the personhood amendment that both Todd Akin and Paul Ryan cosponsored," she said. "That goes much farther than most people realize. This is beyond just their desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, this is a desire to go further. It is refighting the contraception wars that my 84-year old mother fought.
"I was sitting with and visiting her the other day," McCaskill said. "She said, 'Sorry honey.' I said, 'What are you sorry about?' She said, 'I thought we took care of this. I thought we won.' ... I think that some people in the Republican Party, including Congressman Akin, would like to take us back to that age."