Mitt Romney on Tuesday stepped up his criticism of Republican Rep. Todd Akin and called on the congressman to drop out of the Missouri Senate race because of his recent, controversial remarks on rape and abortion.
“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,” Romney said 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.”
Romney’s statement came after Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri released a joint statement with four former Republican Missouri senators calling on Akin to step aside.
“We do not believe it serves the national interest for Congressman Todd Akin to stay in this race,” the Missouri politicians said. “The issues at stake are too big, and this election is simply too important. The right decision is to step aside.”
An aide for Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan said that Ryan agrees that Akin should exit the race.
The six-term conservative congressman has come under fire since suggesting in an interview Sunday that women couldn’t get pregnant from rape.
“It seems to me first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said when asked whether he would support abortions for rape victims. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said of a rape victim’s chances of becoming pregnant.
In spite of widespread calls from within the GOP for Akin to drop out of the competitive race against Democrat Claire McCaskill, Akin so far insists he’s not quitting.
In a radio interview with Sean Hannity on Tuesday afternoon, Akin said he spoke with Ryan on the phone today about the controversy.
“He said he recognized I have to make a tough decision here,” Akin said. “He said he thought maybe I should give some thought to stepping down, but he didn’t tell me what to do.”
Akin said he’s staying in the race to put “principle over politics” and focus the race on broader issues. “It still seems to me there has to be room in the challenges that we face in America to broaden the scope of what a campaign needs to be about,” he said.
When Hannity suggested he could be putting the GOP’s success at risk for personal gain, Akin said, “My interest in this race has nothing to do with me. It has to do with who we are as a nation.”
Referring to his primary victory, Akin added, “The point is, the people of Missouri chose me.” When Hannity pointed out that “they chose you before the mistake,” Akin responded, “Yeah. That’s true.”
An Akin campaign official confirmed to CBS News that Akin is still considering the possibility of getting out of the race before Sept. 25.
Had Akin decided to drop out before 5 p.m. CT Tuesday, he could have done so easily. If he drops out after that point but before Sept. 25, the Missouri GOP will have to obtain a court order to replace his name on the ballot. After Sept. 25, the state will not change the names on the state ballot, no matter what.
“Obviously, you continue to gauge things as you’re on the air and as things evolve,” the Akin campaign official said. “Intuitively, what I will tell you is the roughest time of any controversy is the first 48 hours, and I think the cable news shows are going to be bored of it after two days.”
The official added, “You never prevent yourself from evaluating new facts. You’re never blind to new information.”
Akin is scheduled to return to Missouri today after shooting a slate of ads in Ohio. Asked what the game plan is now, the Akin campaign official said, “Raise money and work hard—the same way he won the primary.... He’s never been a favorite of the insiders, so he’s comfortable remaining that way.”
While the National Republican Senatorial Committee is now refusing to help finance Akin’s campaign, the official said the Akin campaign isn’t worried. Akin, after all, defeated primary opponent John Brunner, who put $7 million of his own money into his campaign.