* Conservatives see Akin as one of their own

* Fundraising drive focuses on "party bosses"

* Akin says he'll stay in race -- and win (Adds Akin comments, paragraphs 11-12)

By Nick Carey

ST CHARLES, Mo., Aug 24 (Reuters) - Missouri conservatives say they are rallying around U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin despite his controversial comments about rape because they are outraged that "establishment" Republican Party leaders tried to railroad him out of the race.

A backlash has set in here in Akin's suburban St. Louis congressional district, where supporters said the national party had no right to attempt to force out a duly-elected candidate.

Backers described Akin as the "real deal," a politician fiercely committed to their social causes such as opposition to abortion, and to the Tea Party drive to downsize government.

Akin, 65, has defied widespread calls, including from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to step aside after he said women's bodies have natural defenses against pregnancy from "legitimate rape."

The uproar knocked Romney's campaign off message days before the Republican National Convention, and major party paymasters pulled millions of dollars in campaign advertising for Akin.

The gaffe has put at risk what was considered a likely Republican pickup of a Democratic-held seat in a state becoming more conservative. Republicans need a net gain of four seats in the November election to ensure they gain a Senate majority.

"At first I felt (Akin's comments) were offensive to women and insulting to my intelligence," said Lisa Payne-Naeger, a member of the conservative Missouri Grassroots Coalition, who has an online political radio show. "What changed it for me was the Republican establishment's effort to chop him off at the knees and install one of their own in the race."

Payne-Naeger said she was so angered by the "onslaught" from party leaders that she donated to Akin's campaign on Wednesday.

Nearly two dozen Missouri Republicans interviewed on Wednesday and Thursday, most of them in the St. Louis area but some in other parts of the state, expressed similar views.

Akin has seized on this theme, launching a "Help Todd Fight Back Against the Party Bosses" fundraising drive that his campaign said netted $100,000 in small donations this week.

On Friday he vowed to stay in the race until election day on Nov. 6 -- and win.

"I may not be the favorite candidate of some people within the Republican establishment, but the voters made a decision and this is an election, it's not a selection," he said at a news conference.

Holding on to the Republican base of support is key to Akin's political survival, although he faces more major obstacles to defeating Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in November.

A poll by Republican group Rasmussen Reports released on Thursday gave McCaskill a 10-point lead over Akin, whose lead in other polls was as much as 11 points before the rape comments.

"Akin faces more of an uphill race now," said Jay Dow, a political scientist at the University of Missouri in Columbia. "The question is whether moderate Republicans will turn out."


'THE REAL DEAL'

Throughout his career as a state representative elected in 1988 and then as a congressman, Akin has been a staunch Christian and social conservative who has fought abortion and promoted the right to gun ownership.

"Todd Akin is firmly grounded in his Christian beliefs," said Kenneth Williams, Republican committee chairman for Sainte Genevieve County, who said he gave $100 to Akin's campaign on Wednesday. "He's the real deal."

The congressman's stand on fiscal issues and willingness to buck the party line -- he voted against the unpopular 2008 bank bailout and against President George W. Bush's education reform known as No Child Left Behind -- has also endeared him to the anti-establishment Tea Party movement.

"Akin has real Tea Party credentials," said Bill Hennessy, founder of the St. Louis Tea Party, who lives in Akin's district and has voted for him since 2000.

Hennessy recalled Akin was the only politician who showed up at the group's April 15, 2009, "Tax Day" rally in downtown St. Louis and adhered to an order not to do any politicking.

Akin's ability to straddle America's two main brands of conservatism -- fiscal and social -- enabled him to garner enough support from Christian conservatives and Tea Party adherents in the Aug. 7 Republican Senate primary to win by 6 points.

Anyone who thinks the congressman may yet exit the race does not know Akin, said John Putnam, Missouri state coordinator for the national Tea Party Patriots group and chairman of the Jasper County Republican Party, who has known Akin since 1984.

Patsy Liszewski, who described herself as "just a grandma" and member of the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition, said she would prefer Akin get out of the race.

"But if he stays in, I will vote for him and campaign for him because our main goal is to beat Claire McCaskill," she said.

"I support him probably even more than I did before," said Molly Nesham, a home-schooling mother who also teaches at a Christian school and likes Akin's stand on abortion. "He made a mistake and the Republican Party abandoned him."

(Reporting by Nick Carey, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington.; Editing by Greg McCune and Xavier Briand)

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.)

    "Well, I thought his comments were a little bit outrageous," she <a href="http://www.kjzz.org/content/1208/gov-brewer-akin-comments-little-bit-outrageous-doesnt-call-candidate-drop-out-race" target="_hplink">told KJZZ's Mark Brodie</a>. "I'm not in a position to [decide] whether it's right for the party to pull funding, I mean, those people there raise the money, they get to spend it however they wish."

  • Mitt Romney

    "As I said yesterday, Todd Akin's comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country," said Romney in a statement. "Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race." Earlier, from an <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/314452/romney-akins-inexcusable-comment-robert-costa" target="_hplink">interview with the National Review</a>: <blockquote>"Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," Romney said. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."</blockquote>

  • Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.)

    "He should be ashamed of himself to be talking about it in that way," Christie said. "It's stunning to me that somebody who's offering themselves for high office like that would have those kind of thoughts and use that kind of language."

  • Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.)

    From <a href="http://mountpleasant.patch.com/articles/gov-scott-walker-says-missouri-senate-candidate-todd-akin-should-get-out" target="_hplink">Patch</a>: <blockquote>Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday that Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin should drop out of the race after Akin made controversial comments about rape and pregnancy. "Yes, he should step down. Those comments were ignorant at best and outrageous," Walker said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Sturtevant.</blockquote>

  • Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.)

    "He's got to seriously decide what's in the best interest of the party, what's in the best interest of the state of Missouri, and frankly, at this point, given that flat wrong statement, whether he can win," McDonnell <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/bob-mcdonnell-todd-akin_n_1818906.html?1345568504" target="_hplink">told The Huffington Post</a>. "I think there was a belief a month ago, when it was just he and [incumbent Sen. Claire] McCaskill head to head after he got the nomination, that it would be a hard-fought competitive race, with Romney at the top of the ticket and up double digits, that this would be a race that would be winnable for the Republicans," McDonnell said. "To say things that seemed to be so flat wrong and out of touch with both science and the people, I think it makes it very difficult at this point for him to win."

  • NRSC Chair Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

    "It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape ... The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive."

  • Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan Campaign

    "Gov. Romney and Congressman (Paul) Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said. "Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/314452/romney-akins-inexcusable-comment-robert-costa" target="_hplink">Romney said</a>. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."

  • Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

    "What he said is just flat wrong in addition to being wildly offensive to any victim of sexual abuse. Although Representative Akin has apologized, I believe he should take time with his family to consider whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in this critical election," said McConnell, according to the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-mcconnell-suggests-todd-akin-consider-his-options-20120820,0,5243455.story" target="_hplink"><em>Los Angeles Times</em></a>.

  • Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

  • Elizabeth Warren

  • Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

    "As a husband and father of two young women, I found <a href="http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/scott-brown-calls-for-todd-akin-to-drop" target="_hplink">Todd Akin's comments</a> about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate and wrong. There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking. Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin's statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for US Senate in Missouri."

  • Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)

    "Whether he has mispoken or whether he has a position that we would have trouble agreeing on, I don't know that. I do know him and I do know his family, and I'm impressed with what they've accomplished. So that's the best I can do with what little bit I know," <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDsQkjnQx5Y&feature=youtu.be" target="_hplink">said King</a>. And later: "I just haven't heard of that being a circumstance that's been brought to me in any personal way," he <a href="http://www.kmeg14.com/story/19324372/rep-steve-king-on-the-campaign-trail" target="_hplink">told KMEG</a>. "I'd be open to hearing discussion about that subject matter."

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)

  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

    "I have to agree with those, including Republicans, who have said he should give up his race for Senate," said Van Hollen on <a href="http://video.msnbc.msn.com/newsnation/48728017/#48728017" target="_hplink">NewsNation with Tamron Hall</a>.

  • Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.)

    "Like Joe Biden's comments last week, I find Todd Akin's comments made Sunday to be just as outrageous and offensive. Such insulting and offensive remarks from Joe Biden and Todd Akin have no place in our political discourse," said Mack in a <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/08/connie-mack-cosponsor-of-forcible-rape-bill-links-akins-legitimate-rape-with-bidens-chains-.html" target="_hplink">press release</a>.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

  • Cindy McCain

  • Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.)

    Talent, who once held the Senate seat Akin is running for, declined to endorse Akin on Monday. "It's a decision he has to make," Talent said when asked whether Akin should step aside, according to the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-todd-akin-stay-in-senate-race-20120820,0,2849040.story" target="_hplink"><em>Los Angeles Times</em></a>. "I can't agree with anything [Akin] said," Talent later clarified.

  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)

    "Now, Akin's choice of words isn't the real issue here. The <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/08/dnc-email-ties-romney-to-todd-akin-132522.html" target="_hplink">real issue</a> is a Republican party -- led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan -- whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong. I'm outraged at the Republicans trying to take women back to the dark ages -- if you agree, join me in taking a stand for women. Really, it's deeply concerning that Republicans continue to support legislation that is, quite literally, dangerous for women. Mitt Romney famously says he would "get rid of" federal funding for Planned Parenthood if he had the chance. His running mate, Paul Ryan, was one of more than 200 Republican cosponsors of a piece of legislation that would have narrowed the definition of rape. Can you imagine -- the same Republican House that refuses to pass a jobs bill jumped at the opportunity to make life harder for victims of rape? And what do Romney and Ryan think of Akin's latest statement? They've been trying to distance themselves from it -- but Congressman Ryan has already partnered with Akin on a whole host of issues that restrict women's ability to make their own health care decisions."

  • Sarah Steelman, Akin's Former Primary Opponent

  • Meghan McCain

  • Terry O'Neill, President Of The National Organization For Women

    "That kind of rhetoric re-traumatizes sexual assault victims. ... That kind of talk, I believe, is intended to shame women," she told the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/todd-akin-rape-comments_n_1810362.html?1345468189" target="_hplink">Associated Press radio</a>, characterizing the remarks as "flat-out astonishing."

  • Mike Murphy, GOP Consultant

  • Michelle Malkin, Conservative Columnist

  • Joe Scarborough, Host Of MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

    "There is a rule," <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/scarborough-reacts-to-akins-rape-remark-conservatives-neglecting-to-choose-the-most-electable-candidate/" target="_hplink">he [Scarborough] continued</a>, "that we conservatives have followed for a long time, and it's the 'Bill Buckley Rule.' You elect the most electable conservative. The person who is the most conservative and who is the most electable is the one you put on the ticket. That's the part of the equation that we're losing over the last three years. And it's making Harry Reid the majority leader."

  • Bryan Fischer, Conservative Radio Host

  • Tom Perriello, President Of Center For American Progress Action Fund

  • Petition By The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

    <blockquote><a href="http://dccc.org/pages/denounce-todd-akin?source=2012.08.20_kw_all" target="_hplink">Sign your name to call</a> on Speaker John Boehner to remove Rep. Todd Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee. Republican Congressman Todd Akin told a Missouri news station: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare... If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Someone who believes nonsense like this has no part overseeing science policy. Tell Speaker Boehner to immediately remove Rep. Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee.</blockquote>

  • Susan B. Anthony List

    <blockquote>"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. "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. "If President Obama and Senator McCaskill care to focus on extreme positions, it is time for self reflection. It is time to answer the question why this president has recently rejected bans on gender selection and late term abortions. "Todd Akin, on the other hand, has a record of voting to protect human life. His opponent does not. Congressman Akin has been an excellent partner in the fight for the unborn."</blockquote>

  • Tea Party Express

    <a href="http://www.teapartyexpress.org/5205/tea-party-express-urges-rep-akin-to-step-down" target="_hplink">Tea Party Express</a>, the nation's largest tea party political action committee, is urging Congressman Todd Akin to resign his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer said, "Congressman Akin's comments this weekend are not just unfortunate and inappropriate, but they are distracting from our main goal of defeating Claire McCaskill and taking the Senate gavel out of the hands of Harry Reid. At a time when our national debt is approaching $16 trillion, job growth is stagnate, and the Senate has failed to pass a budget in over 3 years, we need a candidate that is ready to help lead the charge for conservative solutions. "One of the lessons we learned in 2010 is that we need candidates who are not only conservative, but are capable of putting together a strong campaign against liberal opponents. Akin's frequent 'Bidenisms' are distracting from the important issues at hand. "It is critical that we defeat Senator Claire McCaskill in November, but it will be too difficult to achieve that with Todd Akin as the conservative alternative. He should step down and give conservatives a chance at taking back the Senate in November," Kremer concluded.