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'Legitimate rape' gaffe in Missouri could be bad news for Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida

Nothing can clarify or take back a phrase like "legitimate rape."

When Missouri GOP Senate candidate and Congressman Todd Akin uttered the two words Sunday, he tried to take it back as an "off the cuff" remark in explaining why he opposes rape-and-incest exceptions to an abortion ban. The Republican presidential ticket distanced themselves from Akin. Other Republicans started writing off his campaign to unseat incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill.

And that could be bad news for Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

Here's why: Nelson's supporters were hoping that the GOP Super PACs might let up on him and start heading to the Show Me State as he started to bloody up Republican Congressman Connie Mack, whose campaign has made some Republican insiders in Florida a little nervous. As noted here last month: "Nelson's camp probably hopes to tar Mack, hurt him in the polls in time for the August Republican National Convention in Tampa, slow his fundraising (reports are due about the time of the RNC) and hope the Super PACs go somewhere else if they believe Mack's not worth the investment. Florida is a large TV state and it might be more cost-effective for the Super PACs to go elsewhere, say less-expensive and more-competitive Missouri, to pick up a Senate seat."

Then Akin opened his mouth on KTVI-TV in Missouri as he explained pregnancies that arise from rape.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” he said. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

Unlike Akin, Mack is an establishment Republican. And though his campaign has had a misstep hither and yon, he's still essentially tied with Nelson. Mack has not only avoided social issues; he's smart enough not to say that there's a thing called "legitimate rape."

Akin soon tried to clarify in a statement: "In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview, and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.... I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life, and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

In Florida, Democrats can't expect to get this lucky. Mack has had his share of missteps. But nothing like this. An establishment Republican, he has avoided hot-button social issues. And it's tough to see him saying something like "legitimate rape." In fact, it's tough to see any major candidate saying something like that.

If third-party groups didn't have an excuse to avoid Missouri, now they have a big one. And suddenly Florida looks like a much better investment.


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