KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Republicans in Missouri and across the country started moving back toward supporting Todd Akin's Senate bid as the candidate declared yet again Tuesday that he was still in the race.
The Missouri Republican Party, which had been noticeably silent in the weeks after Akin's comments about rape victims, issued a statement Tuesday in which party chairman David Cole declared the party "will do everything we can" to help the six-term U.S. House member from the St. Louis area.
"Just like all our GOP candidates elected in the August primary, the Missouri Republican Party stands behind Congressman Todd Akin in his bid for the United States Senate," Cole said. "We are confident that Todd will defeat (Claire) McCaskill in November."
In August, Cole said in a memo to members of the Republican state committee that Akin's rape comments were "not just a distraction" but "posed a threat to our party's chances of retaking control of the U.S. Senate," and could affect other Missouri races.
Akin's announcement Tuesday came on the final day he could officially withdraw from the race without his name appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot.
On Tuesday evening, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri issued a statement saying he'd also work for Akin's election. A month ago Blunt called on Akin to step aside.
Blunt's statement said he and Akin "don't agree on everything, but he and I agree the Senate majority must change."
"I'll be working for the Republican ticket in Missouri, and that includes Todd Akin," Blunt's statement said.
In addition, the independent Freedom's Defense Fund committee announced it was committing $250,000 for TV commercials and other help related to Akin's campaign.
"We're going in here and supporting a very conservative, real conservative guy," committee chairman Michael Centanni said, referring to Akin. "I think a lot of the establishment guys that pulled away from him back in August -- hopefully this will give them a little bit of a nudge."
At a St. Louis news conference earlier in the day, Akin said he was sticking it out against McCaskill, a Democrat. By his own count, Akin said he'd made that statement at least 100 times.
"I have one purpose going into November, and that's replacing Claire McCaskill," Akin said.
Akin emphasized again that voters picked him as the Republican nominee in the August primary.
"I was given a trust -- a trust to replace a senator who had not represented Missouri or our best interests," he said.
The August primary was held before Akin made his highly publicized comments about "legitimate" rape victims having the biological capability to ward off pregnancy. Those comments ignited a national firestorm and calls from the highest reaches of the Republican Party, including GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, to drop out of the race.
At one point, five current or former Missouri senators -- Blunt, John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, John Danforth and Jim Talent -- all called for Akin to withdraw.
Akin repeatedly rebuffed those calls and now talks in campaign appearances about having the political courage to buck party bosses.
At the end of his news conference, Akin declined to take questions from reporters and immediately boarded a bus for a four-day tour of the state that will bring him to the Kansas City area on Friday.
McCaskill responded Tuesday with a tough new statewide television spot that features Akin's own comments about such hot-button issues as Social Security, Medicare and the minimum wage. In the ad, a narrator states that Akin has declared that he "does not like Social Security" and that Medicare was "unconstitutional."
The ad also pointed out that Akin has said "some rapes are legitimate" and concludes with the narrator saying, "What will he say next?"
During his brief remarks at the news conference, Akin criticized McCaskill for voting for the new federal health care law, which he said 71 percent of Missourians opposed in a statewide vote. He said he received an "A" grade from the National Rifle Association, while McCaskill got an "F."
He added that McCaskill had voted to raise 50 taxes.
"I don't vote to raise our taxes," he said. "It's a clear choice."
Akin acknowledged that he was often asked whether he could beat McCaskill. Some recent polls have showed him trailing by six or more percentage points.
"But there's another question that's more fundamental," Akin said. "That is, what's the right thing to do? There is an amazing correlation. When you do the right thing, you win anyway."
However, Akin's campaign finances are becoming an issue. Several leading GOP fundraisers, including Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, have declared they will no longer back Akin in the wake of his rape comments.
But last week Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who maintains a big war chest, said he was reconsidering the Missouri race and might stand with Akin in the campaign's home stretch.
McCaskill's campaign this week pounded Akin for taking a new position against earmarks as a way to ensure that he would gain DeMint's financial backing. DeMint, along with McCaskill, are prominent earmark opponents.
Earmarks are spending projects that members of Congress can privately insert into appropriations bills.
Akin aide Rick Tyler told the National Journal last week that the candidate had agreed to an earmark ban, even though he had repeatedly requested earmarks during his years in the House.
The McCaskill camp released a web video this week in which Akin is seen defending the use of earmarks over the years.
"It's shocking that Todd Akin's willing to sell his support for an earmark ban, especially after defending the practice in campaign ads just two months ago," said McCaskill spokesman Erik Dorey. "Akin's decision to sell his support for an earmark ban is the kind of Washington politics that Missourians hate."
Akin's camp has defended his position, noting that "Todd's position on earmarks has been clear and consistent, and is not in conflict with Senator DeMint's ban on earmarks." Akin has not elaborated on that stand.
Centanni, from the Freedom's Defense Fund committee, said he made the decision to back Akin after hearing him speak. By law, the committee can't directly coordinate its activities with the Akin campaign.
The group is connected with author Jerome Corsi, who has written articles and books alleging that President Barack Obama isn't a U.S. citizen. Corsi also wrote "Unfit for Command," a book critical of Sen. John Kerry's service in the Vietnam War, during the 2004 presidential election campaign.
Freedom's Defense Fund has raised almost $2.4 million this election cycle but had spent most of it by mid-July, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Centanni said it has about one-third of its $250,000 commitment in the bank and will try to raise the rest in the next six weeks.
In July the committee paid a $3,700 fine for filing inaccurate campaign spending reports in 2008.
Earlier this week, Akin campaigned in St. Louis with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who predicted that Republicans would flock back to Akin in the weeks ahead.
"Republicans across this country understand that Todd Akin is key to our winning control of the Senate," Gingrich said.