(CNN) – Republicans began distancing themselves from U.S. Rep. Todd Akin late Sunday and Monday after the Missouri congressman and candidate for Senate claimed "legitimate rape" rarely resulted in pregnancy.
Akin was explaining his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape, a viewpoint he shares with other conservative members of the Republican Party, including Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate.
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A spokeswoman for Romney's campaign released a statement indicating the presumptive GOP nominee and his running mate disagreed with Akin's remarks, which were made in an interview with KTVI.
"Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg wrote.
And Romney himself, in an interview with the National Review Online, said that Akin's "comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong."
"Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive," Romney said, adding: "I have an entirely different view. What he said is entirely without merit and he should correct it."
The Romney-Ryan campaign says the Wisconsin lawmaker has long personally maintained an opposition to abortion in all cases except when the life of the mother is at risk. However, he has supported legislation that would allow exceptions for pregnancy in the case of rape, incest, or when a mother's life is at risk.
Ryan co-sponsored a bill in the House last year that bestowed "personhood" rights on fertilized embryos, which would allow states or Congress to determine the legality of abortions.
A Romney campaign official said that the House Budget chairman's personal view remain unchanged, but that the position of the ticket reflected Romney's stance - that abortion should be legal in cases of rape.
Akin, who won a three-way GOP primary earlier this month to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November's general election, said Sunday that he "misspoke" when he made the comments on "legitimate rape," though he maintained his opposition to abortion in all cases.
Brian Walsh, the communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wrote in an e-mail that "Congressman Akin did the right thing by quickly correcting the record and acknowledging that he misspoke."
Walsh said the election would be a referendum on McCaskill's voting record and support for the president's agenda.
Fellow Republicans, however, began distancing themselves from Akin, an indication of how harmful his remarks are being regarded by members of his own party.
"As a pro-life conservative, a husband, and a father of two young women, I find Representative Akin's remarks to be offensive and reprehensible," Rep. Dennis Rehberg of Montana, also running for U.S. Senate, wrote in a statement Sunday. "There is no such thing as a 'legitimate rape.' I condemn Representative Akin's statements in the strongest possible terms."
Sarah Steelman, the former state treasurer who was among Akin's challengers for the GOP Senate nomination in Missouri, also decried his remarks, writing on Twitter, "Todd Akin's remarks about 'legitimate rape' were inexcusable, insulting and embarrassing to the GOP."
Steelman lost to Akin in a three-way race for the GOP Senate nomination in Missouri at the beginning of August. She lagged far behind her competitors in terms of fund-raising, but gained national attention after receiving the coveted endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Sen. Scott Brown, in a heated re-election battle in Massachusetts, wrote on Twitter that he "found Todd Akin's comments about rape victims outrageous and way over the line.
"He needs to apologize," Brown wrote. He later called on Akin to step down from the GOP Senate nomination.
Democrats, meanwhile, wasted no time linking Akin to the GOP presidential ticket, soliciting donations from supporters by asserting the GOP – "led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan" – was pushing policies that were dangerous for women.
"What do Romney and Ryan think of Akin's latest statement? They've been trying to distance themselves from it - but Congressman Ryan has already partnered with Akin on a whole host of issues that restrict women's ability to make their own health care decisions," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, wrote in the email.
"This kind of "leadership" is dangerously wrong for women - and I can't sit by and watch as these out of touch Republicans like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Todd Akin continue to roll back women's rights," she continued.
Polls indicate that President Barack Obama has the upper hand over Romney among female voters.
McCaskill almost immediately struck upon her opponent's comments Sunday, writing on Twitter: "As a woman & former prosecutor who handled 100s of rape cases, I'm stunned by Rep Akin's comments about victims this AM."
She later released a statement condemning her rival as "ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape."
McCaskill's website splashed Akin's comments across the homepage, and included a link where supporters could donate money to the Missouri senator's campaign.
On Monday, McCaskill said on MSNBC that her rival's remarks were "a window into Todd Akin's mind."
"He was elected by the Republican primary voters, by a wide margin," McCaskill said. "I know there are people that are out of the mainstream that really support Todd Akin. But for most Missourians, I hope this is a gut check moment when they say this is not somebody we want speaking for us on the floor of the United States Senate."
Republicans consider McCaskill, first elected in 2006, highly vulnerable in her re-election bid for a second term. Ahead of the GOP primary, a Mason-Dixon poll showed the senator falling behind each of the three main GOP competitors in hypothetical match-ups among registered Missouri voters.
Prior to this controversy, the top non-partisan political handicappers had rated the race a "toss up." Republicans consider McCaskill's seat a prime take-over target as they try to reclaim control of the Senate. Democrats currently have a 53 to 47 advantage in the chamber, but are defending 23 (21 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party) of the 33 seats up for grabs in November.
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