The New York Times extended the controversy over offensive comments made by Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin to indict the entire Republican Party, misleadingly conflating Akin's remark about "legitimate rape" with the party's traditional pro-life stance. Wednesday's two connected lead stories were ushered in under the banner headline "Ignoring Deadline to Quit, G.O.P. Senate Candidate Defies His Party Leaders: Unexpected Twist in the Election Campaigns."
The headline over Jennifer Steinhauer's story nationalized the firestorm in Missouri: "Unexpected Turn in Campaign for President," and the story's headline on the jump page crystalized Democratic wishful thinking: "Missouri Controversy May Endanger Republican Chances in the Fall."
As an orator, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri may stand out for his clumsiness. But as a legislator, Mr. Akin has a record on abortion that is largely indistinguishable from those of most of his Republican House colleagues, who have viewed restricting abortion rights as one of their top priorities.
That agenda -- largely eclipsed for two years by a protracted fiscal crisis and the fight over how to manage the federal deficit -- has wedged its way, for now at least, to the center of the 2012 campaign. It is focusing attention on an issue that helped earn Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, a reputation as a flip-flopper, threatening the Republican quest for control of the Senate, and leaving Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Mr. Romney’s vice-presidential pick, in the uncomfortable position of distinguishing himself from Mr. Akin, with whom he has often concurred.
It is an agenda that has enjoyed the support of House leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader, who has called anti-abortion measures “obviously very important in terms of the priorities we set out initially in our pledge to America.” It became inextricably linked to the near-shutdown of the federal government last year when an agreement to keep the government open was reached only after it was linked to a measure restricting abortion in the District of Columbia.
Even as Congressional Republicans, including Mr. Boehner, denounced Mr. Akin’s remark that victims of “legitimate rape” were able to somehow prevent pregnancy, an agenda to roll back abortion is one that House Republicans have largely moved in step with.
Mr. Ryan’s more conservative views, which have been reflected in votes that would restrict family planning financing overseas, cut off all federal funds to Planned Parenthood and repeal President Obama’s health care law, have come into sharp relief as Mr. Akin struggles for his political life. Mr. Akin and Mr. Ryan each have voted in this Congress for 10 abortion-restricting measures as well as those that limited other family planning services.
Both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney have earned praise for their positions from the National Right to Life group and other anti-abortion organizations. “The right-to-life Romney/Ryan ticket is now complete,” wrote Barbara Lyons and Sue Armacost, executive director and legislative director for Wisconsin Right to Life, on the organization’s Web site.
It is a legislative theme Democrats plan to highlight, even as House Republicans try to keep the focus on economic issues.
And those Democrats can rely on front-page help from the Times.
In the co-lead story, congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman joined colleague Steinhauer in eagerly conflating Akin's controversial abortion comments with the GOP's long-standing pro-life platform plank.
Representative Todd Akin on Tuesday ignored a deadline to abandon Missouri’s Senate race and vowed to remain the Republican nominee in defiance of his party’s leaders, including the presidential standard-bearer, Mitt Romney.
“I believe the defense of the unborn and a deep respect for life, which underlie all of America, those are important parts of who we are. And they’re not things to run away from,” Mr. Akin said on the radio program hosted by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor.
Mr. Akin touched off a firestorm of criticism after he said in a television interview on Sunday that in instances of what he called “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies somehow blocked an unwanted pregnancy.
The congressman’s decision to remain in the race against Claire McCaskill, the incumbent Democratic senator, came the same day the Republican Party’s platform committee endorsed a constitutional ban on abortion that does not include an explicit exception for rape.
Less than a week before the national party gathers in Tampa, Fla., to formally nominate Mr. Romney as its presidential candidate, the national conversation has turned sharply to the kind of social issues the party has tried to avoid.
Mr. Akin is no stranger to incendiary comments. “We can’t run from our shadows every time someone says ‘abortion,’ ” he told Dana Loesch, a conservative talk radio host, on Tuesday.
For months, Mr. Romney has struggled to stay focused on the economy while trying to narrow a deficit that polls show he has with women in the presidential race. But the week’s events have set back that effort and ensured a media spotlight for Mr. Akin and his ardent supporters in the social conservative movement.