Democrats are trying to take advantage of the controversial remarks of a Republican U.S. Senate candidate on abortion, but presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is seeking to refocus the campaign debate on the sluggish economy.
U.S. Representative Todd Akin, who is running for a Senate seat in Missouri, started a firestorm of controversy this week when he defended his opposition to abortion -- even in cases of rape -- by claiming that victims of "legitimate rape" have a natural mechanism to avoid pregnancy. Akin later apologized, but rejected calls by Republican leaders, including Romney, to give up his race for the Senate.
President Barack Obama poked fun at Akin's remarks during a fundraising dinner in New York Wednesday night. He said that although Akin is a member of the House's science and technology panel, he "somehow missed science class."
For his part, Romney is seeking to avoid the divisive abortion issue and focus on the economy in his attempt to unseat Obama in the November election. Campaigning in Iowa, Romney criticized Obama for failing to bring down the nation's debt and deficit. He said if elected, he would "cut federal spending" and "encourage growth" and that the result would be a balanced federal budget.
Democrats have seized on Akin's remarks to draw attention to the Republican Party's stance against abortion, which they claim is part of their efforts to infringe on women's rights. The Obama campaign told reporters Wednesday that U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, Romney's vice presidential running mate, has co-sponsored strict anti-abortion legislation in the House.
Ryan said he was "proud of his pro-life" record in Congress during an interview Wednesday, but he has also called on Akin to withdraw from the Senate race in Missouri.
Republicans preparing for next week's national party convention have adopted a statement of beliefs that includes a call for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion. The pledge does not include exceptions in cases of rape or incest, putting it at odds with Romney's previously stated position.
Romney and Ryan will be formally nominated at the national convention in the southern city of Tampa, Florida.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.