KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin, unmoved by pressure to drop out of the race by a deadline on Tuesday, got a pledge of support from the state Republican Party and some Tea Party-linked conservatives considered donating to his campaign.
Akin has been urged to quit by fellow Republicans over his controversial remarks on rape. In a sign of defiance, Akin began a bus tour across the state on Tuesday to emphasize his decision to let pass the last opportunity to leave the race before the November 6 election.
The Missouri Senate race is a crucial one for Republicans who need a net gain of four seats to ensure a majority.
Akin was pilloried, and top Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, asked him to step down after he said in August that women have natural defenses against pregnancy from “legitimate rape.” Major Republican donors cut off funding for his campaign in an effort to force him out.
Before the rape comments, Akin had as much as a double-digit lead in polls over incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who is unpopular in a state trending conservative.
After the comments, Akin’s support sank and the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows McCaskill with a lead of about five points.
Akin assured more than 150 supporters at a rally in St. Louis on Tuesday afternoon that he was in the race to stay, then departed on the bus tour. Donations to the campaign are picking up, his spokesman Ryan Hite said.
“Now that the deadline has passed, you will see a lot of conservative groups coming back in,” Hite said. “Missouri is a battleground state and its importance to taking back the Senate is too much to ignore.”
One such group, the Senate Conservatives Fund, backed by U.S. Senate Tea Party kingmaker Jim DeMint of South Carolina, sent an email on Tuesday to the fund’s 100,000 or so members asking if Akin should get support, director Matt Hoskins said.
“Congressman Akin may still be able to win this race even after all of the attacks from the liberal media and the Republican establishment,” Hoskins said in the email, a copy of which was given to Reuters.
“This isn’t the first time the Republican establishment has attacked and abandoned a conservative nominee... but we’ve helped candidates win races without their support before, and we can do it again if we’re willing to fight,” Hoskins wrote.
The Senate Conservatives Fund has donated as much as $2.1 million to Senate candidates around the country this year, with the top amount going to Ted Cruz in Texas, who supports the Tea Party cause of reducing the size of the federal government, according to the fund’s website.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has formally withheld support for Akin. On Sunday, Republican party chairman Reince Priebus vowed on ABC’s ‘This Week’ that “we’re not going to play in Missouri with Todd Akin.”
But the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, David Cole, who had issued a statement soon after the rape remarks that questioned Akin’s decision to remain in the race, said on Tuesday the state party supported Akin.
“We are confident that Todd will defeat McCaskill in November, and the Missouri Republican Party will do everything we can to assist in his efforts,” he said.
McCaskill, who has mostly avoided the controversy while she waited to find out if Akin would remain her opponent, sought on Tuesday to remind voters of the rape comments.
A new video ad posted on her website titled “Todd Akin - in his own words” calls into question his positions on several issues and ends with a quote appearing on the screen that says, “Some rapes are legitimate.”
Editing by Greg McCune, Claudia Parsons and Cynthia Osterman