CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Many conservative leaders are swallowing their concerns about Rep. Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" flub to rally around the Missouri Senate candidate just to slap down the GOP establishment's efforts to bully him out of the race and starve his race of money.
In the eye of the storm is former Bush advisor Karl Rove who has publicly dissed Akin and had to apologize for joking about murdering the conservative.
"It is remarkable that Rove and the establishment cannot get their heads back in the game. They are fixated on Akin in an irrational way," said a conservative leader and advisor to the Romney campaign.
"If Todd wins, he can thank God, his wife and Karl, in that order," said another conservative leader. There had been rumors Akin would bow out of the race during this week's Democratic Convention, but the Rove attacks and resulting conservative rally have buoyed Akin, who just recruited longtime New Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler to his campaign.
Phyllis Schafly's Eagle Forum has led the public assault on Rove, issuing what one conservative called a "particularly compelling and important" email that called on Rove to butt out of Missouri politics and stop giving conservatives advice via Fox News. "Karl Rove is an embarrassment to the Republican Party. We don't want any more of his advice in secret briefings or publicly on Fox News. Missourians don't want politicians from other states telling us who to run for the Senate," she wrote.
And Wednesday, Tony Perkins, president of the powerful Family Research Council, emailed backers that he's with Akin, not the GOP establishment. "The opposition to Akin from within Republican leadership ranks may be evidence of the latent fault line between the Republican establishment and social conservatives who cannot be co-opted by Republican leaders--not on moral issues," he wrote.
As a result, campaigns insiders said that conservatives and evangelical voters are rallying around Akin, who has apologized for his comment. And,they add, it has restored his chances of beating Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who skipped the Democratic Convention here even though it's Akin's remarks that are helping fuel the so-called "war on women" charge by Democrats.
Tyler tells Secrets that the momentum in the race is "shifting back to being a referendum on McCaskill."
Democrats don't seem to disagree. The executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said here that "I think that his obituary was written prematurely." The reason, said Guy Cecil, is that Missourians are conservative like Akin. "Missouri is still a culturally...conservative state" that acts "more like a Southern state."
Should there be more polls showing that the race was tied, conservatives said that they will bring pressure on the Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee to restore the money flow to the Akin campaign.