Washington (CNN) — A campaign flub by a Republican Senate candidate shifted the political focus Monday to abortion and women’s rights, as certain GOP nominee Mitt Romney and his conservative running mate faced a town hall-style meeting in New Hampshire.
U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Missouri, said Sunday he misspoke when he said in an earlier interview that “legitimate rape” rarely resulted in pregnancy. Akin also expressed opposition to abortion in cases of rape.
The comment by Akin, who won Missouri’s Republican primary to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November, drew immediate criticism from Democrats and some Republicans.
In Massachusetts, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown called for Akin to drop out of the Missouri Senate race because of the “outrageous, inappropriate and wrong” comments.ce in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking,” said Brown, a moderate Republican in a tough re-election battle against Democrat Elizabeth Warren. “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 U.S. Senate in Missouri.”
The Akin statement has forced the Romney campaign to distance itself from the GOP candidate in a key race, and also declare a definitive stance on one of the most volatile political issues of the day.
A Romney spokeswoman issued a statement Sunday night that said the former Massachusetts governor and his running mate — Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — differed with Akin on the matter.
“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg wrote.
The issue is particularly sensitive for Ryan, a devout Catholic and staunch anti-abortion politician who has previously expressed opposition to abortion in all cases except when the life of the mother is endangered.
A Romney-Ryan campaign official, speaking on condition of not being identified, confirmed to CNN that Ryan’s personal view opposes abortion in the case of rape. The campaign official said Ryan’s stance differed with Romney’s view, which was described in the statement Sunday and is the formal position of the GOP presidential ticket.
Democrats immediately challenged the Romney-Ryan team on the issue.
“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,” said a statement by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. “This kind of ‘leadership’ is dangerously wrong for women.”
Meanwhile, Republican colleagues also criticized Akin.
“As a pro-life conservative, a husband, and a father of two young women, I find Representative Akin’s remarks to be offensive and reprehensible,” said Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican candidate for a Montana seat in the U.S. Senate this year. “There is no such thing as a ‘legitimate rape.’ I condemn Representative Akin’s statements in the strongest possible terms.”
A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign, Brian Walsh, said Akin “did the right thing by quickly correcting the record and acknowledging that he misspoke.”
The abortion focus comes in a week when the Romney team wanted to sharpen its focus on economic issues in the run-up to the Republican National Convention, which begins on August 27 in Tampa, Florida.
Now, Romney and Ryan will face questions about the volatile abortion issue and women’s rights, giving President Barack Obama and Democrats an opportunity to further strengthen their advantage with women voters — a demographic that already favors them, according to the polls.