WASHINGTON — Rep. Todd Akin on Tuesday ignored a deadline to abandon Missouri's Senate race and vowed to remain the Republican nominee in defiance of his party's leaders, including the presidential standard-bearer, Mitt Romney.
"I believe the defense of the unborn and a deep respect for life, which underlie all of America, those are important parts of who we are. And they're not things to run away from," Akin said on the radio program hosted by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor.
Akin touched off a firestorm of criticism after he said in a television interview on Sunday that in instances of what he called "legitimate rape," women's bodies somehow blocked an unwanted pregnancy.
As a Republican member of Congress, he has sponsored legislation to name 2008 "The National Year of the Bible," and to promote greater recognition of the Ten Commandments. As the Republican establishment closed ranks on him Tuesday, trying to force him to withdraw, Akin provided divine reasoning as to why he would not quit.
It was "appropriate to recognize a creator, God, whose blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the very source of American freedom," Akin, 65, said in a radio interview. "And that part of the message I feel is missing" from the campaign, he said, adding, "That's the reason why we're going to continue. Because I believe there is a cause here."
Akin's defiance and insistence that, even without the establishment's support, he can defeat the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill, in a race that could decide the balance of power in the Senate was indicative of his nearly quarter century in politics in which he regularly embraced the underdog role, relying on grass roots support and his faith to power him through.
"We can't run from our shadows every time someone says abortion," Akin told Dana Loesch, a conservative talk radio host, on Tuesday.
For months, Romney has struggled to stay focused on the economy while trying to narrow a deficit that polls show he has with women. But the week's events have ensured a media spotlight for Akin and his ardent supporters in the social conservative movement.
While virtually the entire party leadaership in Washington and a lineup of former Republican senators from Missouri turned on him, Akin rallied support among grass roots voters, and he said that would propel him to victory.
Ione Dines, 72, from Marshfield, Mo., a Republican activist for 45 years and a Missouri state committee member since about 2006, said she was "just devastated" by her party's actions.
"I am so disappointed in our national and our state committee when we throw our own under the bus," she said.
Party leaders remained just as resolute in their demands for Akin to leave the race. Romney ramped up his appeal, saying, "Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race."
Both Karl Rove, co-founder of the deep-pocketed Republican group Crossroads GPS, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee made clear they would withhold support for his candidacy, even though a loss in Missouri could jeopardize any chance Republicans had for capturing the Senate.
"By staying in this race, Congressman Akin is putting at great risk many of the issues that he and others in the Republican Party are fighting for," said Brian Walsh, a Senate campaign committee spokesman.
Roy Blunt, Missouri's Republican senator, spoke personally with Akin. Then when his appeals got nowhere, he helped organize a joint statement from himself and four former Missouri Republican senators: John Ashcroft, John C. Danforth, Christopher S. Bond and Jim Talent.
"We do not believe it serves the national interest for Congressman Todd Akin to stay in this race," it said. "The issues at stake are too big, and this election is simply too important."
More Republicans piled on, including several senators Akin hopes to join as colleagues: Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine all called for him to step aside.
But the national party's public pressure campaign rankled some Republicans in Missouri. Violet Corbett, chair of the Johnson County Republican Central Committee and a member of the Republican State Committee, said she surveyed her county's central committee on Monday night. The outcome: 31 people wanted Akin to leave the race; two wanted him to stay.
But by Tuesday, she had begun getting phone calls from fellow Republicans in the state who seemed put off by so much pressure from Washington. "They don't know why we should be letting national tell us what to do here in Missouri," she said.
Akin also received some support from his Democratic opponent, McCaskill, who used a round of advertisements in the last days of the Republican primary campaign to attack his opponents and boost his image.
Amid the calls for him to step aside, she told a St. Louis television station it would be a "radical thing" for the national party "to try to force someone who had won an election honestly off the ballot just because you think you want to pick another candidate."
Akin released an advertisement asking the voters of Missouri to forgive him for saying "legitimate rape" does not lead to pregnancy.
One anti-abortion group expressed support for Akin, while another called on him to step aside.
Missouri Right to Life, which opposes a woman's right to get an abortion even in cases of rape and incest, said Akin's "consistent defense of innocent unborn human life clearly contrasts" with McCaskill's position.
But the Christian Defense Coalition called on him to withdraw.