WASHINGTON Under fire from his own party for controversial comments on rape, U.S. Republican Representative Todd Akin on Thursday won the support of social conservatives in his effort to stay in Missouri's U.S. Senate race.
Akin met members of the Council for National Policy, a coalition of conservative and evangelical leaders, in Tampa, Florida, as the controversy over his remarks on rape and abortion threatened to harden into a standoff between some Republican leaders and social conservatives.
Akin spent Wednesday night and Thursday in private meetings at the group's two-day summit, CNN reported.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which supports Akin's Senate bid, said on MSNBC on Thursday that the meeting was a chance for members of the council to encourage the candidate before the November 6 elections.
Akin's meeting was first reported by Politico. CNN said he had been scheduled to attend the conference long before making remarks on Sunday that set off a firestorm.
CNN reported that Akin is encouraged by leading figures in the conservative movement to remain in the Senate race.
Some Republican strategists worry that the furor over Akin, who has deep ties to the Christian right, is shaping up into a standoff between religious conservatives and leaders of the Republican Party who have called for Akin to leave the race against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and many senior party figures have told Akin to pull out of the Missouri race because of his comment that victims of "legitimate rape" have a natural mechanism to avoid pregnancy. He has apologized for the remarks but defied the demands to quit the race.
"We're talking about someone who misspoke," Perkins said.
Some evangelicals have expressed doubts about Romney because of his Mormon religious faith and past moderate positions such as his support for abortion rights as governor of Massachusetts.
HUCKABEE: REPUBLICANS 'CRUCIFY' AKIN
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a former presidential candidate who is also a favorite of religious conservatives, blasted party leaders for trying to push Akin out of the Senate race. In an email to supporters he called the pressure on Akin "sleazy" and said he would campaign with Akin as often as he could.
"Do we forgive and forget the verbal gaffes of Republicans who are 'conveniently pro-life' for political advantage, but crucify one who truly believes that every life is sacred?" Huckabee wrote.
Akin has said he will not attend the Republicans' national convention in Tampa next week.
A flash poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling on Monday had Akin leading McCaskill by 1 percentage point. But a survey conducted on Wednesday by the Republican-leaning automated pollster Rasmussen Reports had McCaskill up by 10 points.
The Missouri race is crucial to Republican hopes of winning enough seats to take control of the U.S. Senate, where Democrats have a 53-47 seat majority.
Akin has been appealing to supporters with a website bannered "Let the People Decide Not Party Bosses," asking for small contributions. "As a public servant, voters are who I answer to," he said in the appeal.
Akin's site said he had raised $110,000 by Thursday evening, with a goal of $125,000 by midnight. Those totals pale beside the millions of dollars from the national Republican Party and other groups Akin has lost since Sunday.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Mohammad Zargham)