By Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Facing a growing controversy over his comments on the abortion rights of rape victims, Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., is under heavy pressure from the senior ranks of the GOP to bow out of the race by Tuesday in order to nominate a candidate who faces better odds of defeating Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The swift and severe reaction underscores the pivotal nature of Missouri in the GOP's efforts to win control of the U.S. Senate.
Democrats currently control the chamber 53-47, and Republicans have long viewed McCaskill's Missouri seat as a must-win if they stand a chance at the majority.
MORE: Romney: Akin's comments 'inexcusable'
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chairman of the Senate Republicans' campaign operation, did not outright call for Akin to step aside, but said he should take 24 hours to "carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party and the values that he cares about" before deciding to go forward with his campaign.
Further, the National Republican Senatorial Committeewill pull $5 million in reserved airtime if Akin remains in the race. Crossroads GPS, a major Republican super PAC, also announced they were withdrawing from the state after already investing millions in ads to defeat McCaskill.
Akin has been under fire since a Sunday interview with KTVI-TV in St. Louis in which he discussed his opposition to abortion rights even in the case of rape, and said a woman's body could prevent pregnancy in the case of "legitimate rape" because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Akin, a six-term House member, apologized Monday in an interview on former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's radio show, saying that "rape is never legitimate. It is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way."
He told Huckabee he was not dropping out. Akin repeated that assertion later Monday in a Twitter message to his followers and again during a televised interview with Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity.
Akin faced almost universal condemnation from fellow Republicans. Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who is in a tough re-election fight, both said Akin should drop out.
"I'm seeing things here that I have never seen before," said Jennifer Duffy, an election analyst for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, of the intra-party effort to get Akin out of the race. Akin's name on the ballot could be McCaskill's surest bet for re-election, Duffy said.
President Obama denounced Akin's views as "offensive."