U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, facing a looming deadline on his Senate aspirations, millions in lost funding and a barrage of national outrage, has leaders in both political parties raising the same question: Will he stay in the race?
Akin on Monday hunkered down after his controversial comments on rape and vowed to remain on the November ballot, hoping to unseat his Democratic opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill.
"I am in this race to win," Akin tweeted on Monday afternoon, after apologizing for his comments and rebuffing fellow Republicans from Mitt Romney on down who say he should drop out.
Today is, coincidentally, the deadline for Missouri nominees to voluntarily leave the ballot in time to let their parties choose replacements. If Akin doesn't step down by 5 p.m., he could still do so by Sept. 25 but would first need to seek a court order.
Despite his vow to hold his ground, the pressure on Akin to get out is likely to intensify, especially because Missouri's Senate seat is seen by both parties as critical in the fight to control Congress.
Akin has already lost some key funders. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is poised to pull $5 million in reserved airtime if he remains in the race. And Crossroads GPS, the 'super PAC" backed by Karl Rove, which has already spent millions in Missouri, is pulling its resources from the state's Senate race, according to multiple national reports.
Akin, a six-term congressman from Wildwood, won his ballot spot in the Aug. 7 GOP primary to run against McCaskill. In the weeks since, Akin has blithely accepted McCaskill's campaign attacks against him for his stances in favor of privatizing Medicare and opposing federal funding of school lunch programs and college student loans. He has defended those stances as part of his solid conservative agenda.
But it was while defending another of his long-held positions — against abortion, even in cases of rape — that Akin's current troubles began.
"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Akin told an interviewer on KTVI, the St. Louis Fox affiliate, on Sunday.
Akin didn't cite a specific source for the contention, other than to say it was based on "what I understand from doctors."
What followed over the next 24 hours was a slow-motion explosion of outrage, first on the Internet, then on Twitter and other social media, and finally on mainstream media outlets, in political offices and even at the White House.
President Barack Obama, in response to a question at a White House briefing on Monday, said he was offended at the notion of "legitimate rape," adding that "rape is rape." McCaskill, on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," warned that the comment wasn't a mere gaffe but "a window into Todd Akin's mind."
Among others jumping into the fray on Twitter was Sarah Steelman, former Missouri treasurer and one of Akin's foes in the primary. "Todd Akin's remarks about 'legitimate rape' were inexcusable, insulting and embarrassing to the GOP," Steelman wrote.
Akin's staff released a statement Sunday saying he "misspoke" and expressing "deep empathy" for rape victims. Akin later tweeted that "all of us understand that rape can result in pregnancy."
Akin was inaccessible to St. Louis media on Monday, ignoring requests for an interview from the Post-Dispatch and canceling an interview with Charlie Brennan on KMOX radio.
Instead, he pressed his case in two friendly national forums: the radio shows of conservative talkers Mike Huckabee and Sean Hannity.
"I'm not a quitter," Akin told Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a leader of the cultural conservative movement. "We all make mistakes. The many people who supported me know that when you make a mistake, what you need to do is say you're sorry."
Later, with Hannity, the Fox News host and conservative activist, Akin turned aside Hannity's suggestion that Akin consider the "best interest of the people of Missouri."
"The people of Missouri are big enough to take a look at the whole package and say, 'Hey, this Obama is about to break our country, and Claire McCaskill is a rubber stamp for him, and so we need somebody who is going to take the fight to them,'" Akin said. "And I believe that we're going to do that."
There was some defense of Akin. For example, Tom McClusky, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, tweeted, "We should always hold ourselves to a different standard, but we should also not throw friends who've apologized under a bus."
But far more of the reaction, even from the right, was tough. GOP leaders across the party moved quickly to distance themselves from Akin's comments, and many pressed him to leave the ballot by today's deadline.
Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, told a New Hampshire television interviewer that Akin 'should spend 24 hours considering what will best help the country at this critical time."
"I can't defend him," Romney said.
Even those with Tea Party affiliations, such as U.S. Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., were critical. Johnson called Akin's comments "reprehensible and inexcusable," and said Akin should "do the right thing for the nation and step aside today, so Missouri Republicans can put forth a candidate that can win in November."
If Akin were to step down, allowing the state Republican Party to appoint a ballot replacement, there would be no shortage of notable GOP names to choose from. Steelman and St. Louis businessman John Brunner both lost to Akin in the primary, but each garnered a significant block of votes. Other prominent GOP politicians in Missouri include former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson.
For her part, McCaskill swatted back the suggestion that she should face a different challenger in November.
"For the national party to try to come in here and dictate to the Republican primary voters that they're going to invalidate their decision, that would be pretty radical," McCaskill said.
It's not difficult to understand why McCaskill isn't adding her voice to those calling for Akin to step down. Her ongoing campaign theme that Akin is an extremist wouldn't work as well against a replacement candidate.
Missouri's current Republican U.S. senator, Roy Blunt, has remained mum on his views about Akin or the role he may play in what many in the party are calling a crisis.
Bill Lambrecht of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.