ST. CHARLES, Missouri (CNN) — “#Akin” was still trending on Twitter on Tuesday, August 21st — two days after the Missouri congressman committed a gaffe on rape. And Missouri voters were still reeling from what many viewed as an incendiary choice of words.
Republican Todd Akin had until 5 p.m. to decide whether he ought to remain in a U.S. Senate race but had already announced that he was not quitting, despite the pressure from his own party.
He has apologized for saying that a woman’s body is capable of preventing pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape” and asked for forgiveness in a television ad.
In his home state, people were divided over whether the six-term representative should drop out.
Beverly Johnson of St. Charles, Missouri, in the heart of Akin’s 2nd Congressional District, said she voted for Akin in the past and plans to vote for him again.
“I cringed because basically I agree with his stance on abortion,” she said. “But the way he said it, it could have been worded differently. … A legitimate rape? You know, like, what rapes aren’t legitimate?”
Still, she thinks it’s too soon to pass judgment.
“I think, let’s let it play out and see what happens.”
Judi Meredith, a Democrat and owner of a counseling practice that often deals with rape victims, said she was horrified by Akin’s comments. He should withdraw from the race immediately, she said.
“That’s a really terrible crime that’s used against people, and if he doesn’t know and understand the dynamics there and what goes on and why that happens and how it happens, he’s not qualified, in my opinion, to be a candidate for something like that.”
Two large newspapers in Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star, both ran editorials weighing in on the matter, though neither called for him to withdraw.
“The phrase ‘legitimate rape’ is no better or worse than ‘forcible rape,’ ” the Post-Dispatch said. “They are sexist terms used to distinguish between such things as an attack from a stranger and date rape. This is language used to disguise the types of sentiments that were once OK to express — such as suggesting that a woman who was raped after being dressed in provocative clothing was ‘asking for it.’
“Whether Missouri Republicans stick with Mr. Akin or toss him aside, they’re stuck with a problem of their own making. A legitimate problem.”
The Star said it abhorred Akin’s comments but, noting the outcry for him to step aside, said:
“We will not add our voice. Traditionally, we favor letting democratically elected candidates rise or wither on their own merits. In the absence of financial or criminal malfeasance, the voters’ decision determines the contest. The crime of intemperate remarks doesn’t necessarily win a do-over or the chance for the party to choose a stronger contender.”
Top Republican officials have indicated that Akin should give up the Senate race.
Under Missouri law, Akin would require a court order to do so if he waits beyond the 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday.
Gene Wood, a Republican who supported Akin in the past, said he plans to do so again — gaffe or no gaffe.
“It strikes me that this is a tempest in a teapot,” he said. “I think he used a word that in reflection he wouldn’t use again, like the word ‘legitimate.’ Forcible. But this is just a matter of semantics.
“I think people are looking for something to accuse Todd or drag him down when he, I don’t think he said anything that’s really worth all the coverage that it’s getting.” Wood said.
Independent voters were more critical.
Jennifer Derfeld said she cast a ballot for Akin in the past but not in the last election and probably not in the Senate race, either.
“I don’t understand where he would come up with that,” she said. “I mean, either you have been raped or you have not been raped. It’s not legitimate or illegitimate. Its very condescending and kinda like a slap in the face for any rape victim.”
Paul Roesler, a political science professor at St. Charles Community College, predicted Akin would opt to stay in the race.
“Why would he drop out? If he drops out now, his political career is over,” Roesler said.
Roesler’s take was this: Akin made a pretty powerful mistake, but he might find forgiveness in a conservative state like Missouri.
“You are more likely to forgive people who you agree with ideologically,” he said.
It’s not the first time Akin has offended people with things he has said.
Last year on Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ radio show, Akin said, “The heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God.” He later apologized and said his remarks were directed at liberalism as a political movement.
Roesler said Akin’s real trouble could come if the gender gap widens and he loses support from conservative women in Missouri who might not be able to stomach a vote for him after his remarks about rape.
“If the vote were held today, he would lose,” predicted Roesler. “I think the Republican Party is eager for him to drop out. He is definitely a weakened candidate.”
The Democrats will try to ensure that the term “legitimate rape” stays afloat for a while, said Dale Neuman, professor emeritus of political scientist at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.
And the Republicans, he said, may pull critical funding for Akin.
That leaves Democrat McCaskill in a greatly improved situation in a key Republican state, Neuman said.
Still, the election is many weeks away — enough time perhaps for Akin’s gaffe to become faint memory.
CNN’s Moni Basu reported from Atlanta and Chris Welch from St. Charles, Missouri.