ST. LOUIS — On the day Republican leaders had hoped Todd Akin would drop out of the Missouri Senate race, the defiant GOP nominee launched a statewide bus tour with renewed backing from fiscal and anti-abortion conservatives.
Alongside more than 100 supporters, many of them faith leaders at conservative congregations, the GOP candidate whose campaign was upended by his "legitimate rape" comments is being celebrated by many on the right flank for bucking the establishment's calls to step aside.
As Tuesday's final deadline to withdraw neared, Akin played up his underdog role and his campaign appeared reinvigorated in its efforts to defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
"People have asked me, 'Are you quitting? Are you dropping out?' " Akin said at the start of the tour in the ballroom of a downtown hotel in St. Louis. "I don't believe that is my decision. The decision has been made by the voters of the state of Missouri."
Funding for Akin's shoestring effort remains a challenge for the Republican congressman, who lost national financial support after he told an interviewer last month that pregnancy rarely results from "legitimate rape" because, he said, women's bodies have a way of "shutting" down in response to the trauma.
Mitt Romney and other party leaders called on Akin to quit the race as the party struggles to narrow the gender gap enjoyed by President Barack Obama.
But some GOP leaders are speaking out, countering that the party is being "stupid," as former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich put it Monday as he campaigned with Akin, saying the GOP establishment has a "moral" obligation to support the party's nominee as Republicans seek control of the Senate in November. The GOP needs to pick up four seats to tip the balance in the chamber.
Akin has apologized repeatedly for his comment on rape and said he misspoke.