Why are Republicans re-embracing Todd Akin?

Nearly the entire GOP spurned the Senate candidate after his controversial "legitimate rape" comment. Now, he's regaining support. What's changed?

Todd Akin and Newt Gingrich
(Image credit: Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

Things are looking up for the once-declared-dead Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. The Senate Conservatives Fund on Thursday pledged $290,000 to help him defeat vulnerable Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. The news came a day after the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which had denounced Akin over his remark last month about how "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy, announced that it supports him, too. Some powerful conservatives, including Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and former GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, also called on their fellow Republicans to let bygones be bygones and help Akin defeat McCaskill. Why the change of heart? Here, a brief guide:

Had Republicans really abandoned Akin?

It sure looked that way. Last month, the NRSC and Crossroads GPS, a powerful GOP super PAC, pulled their Missouri advertising after Akin made his "legitimate rape" comment. The NRSC urged Akin to end his "misguided campaign" and declared it wouldn't spend a dime on his behalf. National Republican leaders wanted Akin to step aside and let a candidate without his baggage step in to challenge McCaskill, who had long been considered one of the Democrats' most vulnerable incumbents. (Watch a clip reel of top Republicans denouncing Akin here.)

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And now they've changed their minds?

Apparently. On Wednesday, the NRSC declared that the need to cut government spending and create jobs made Akin a "far more preferable candidate than liberal" Claire McCaskill. It didn't go so far as to say it would spend money to support him, but it vowed to keep a watchful eye on the race, suggesting it might lend a hand. At the same time, DeMint and Santorum released a joint statement saying that McCaskill's "support of President Obama's job-killing, big-spending policies are sending our country into an economic abyss." Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who last month called for Akin to quit, also promised to support him.

Why the about-face?

The deadline for Akin to quit the race passed on Tuesday. Now he's the GOP's only hope to pick up McCaskill's seat, which was one of the four pick-ups Republicans were counting on to win control of the Senate. "Now that the national spotlight has swung away," says David Weigel at Slate, "Republicans are looking for the least embarrassing way to help out Akin again, because it's tough to lose Missouri and win the Senate." Akin fell behind McCaskill during the uproar over his remarks, and many people figured he had alienated so many women voters and moderates that he was a lost cause. He has defied the odds, however, and managed to keep within striking distance — he still trails by just single digits — but still needs help raising money to make up for all the contributions he lost over the last month. (See Real Clear Politics' most recent polling average on the Missouri Senate race.)

Is backing Akin risky for Republicans?

Potentially. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, pounced on the GOP shift, calling it an "absolutely shameful" confirmation that Akin's "dangerous" opposition to abortion in all cases "represents the official position of the Republican Party." Actually, keeping Akin around might help the GOP, says Margaret Carlson at Bloomberg. As long as he's in the public eye, he gives other Republicans, from Mitt Romney on down, "a chance to seem almost reasonable on abortion, just in time for the general election." And with the Senate majority hanging in the balance, Akin's a problem no matter what, says Chad Pergram at Fox News. If he loses, he could cost the GOP the majority. If he wins, they have to live with him. "So some Republicans hold their noses. Because either way, if it comes down to the Akin race, they know it's going to stink."

Sources: Associated Press, Bloomberg, Christian Science Monitor, Fox News, Politico, Slate, Washington Post

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