JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Some of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's prominent supporters are reversing course and backing Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin's embattled campaign against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Former Missouri Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent said Friday they are now behind the candidate they once shunned for his remarks on "legitimate rape."
"As a Missourian, I believe it is vital to have a senator and a Senate who will cooperate in creating jobs, repealing Obamacare , and controlling federal spending and the federal deficit," said Talent, who is Romney's adviser on Russia and defense policy.
"Todd can win," added Bond, who has endorsed Romney.
Earlier this week, Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who is Romney's liaison to Congress, endorsed Akin.
The trio would appear to be at odds with Romney, who suggested that Akin "accept their counsel" and leave the race back when they joined two other Missouri GOP elders - former Sens. John Danforth and John Ashcroft - in a formal statement forcefully urging Akin to exit the campaign. The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Akin has apologized for the rape comment for weeks but refused to leave the race. He lost the financial backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the deep-pocketed Crossroads group affiliated with GOP strategist Karl Rove, and there are no signs either group has plans to re-enter the race.
Some members of the Missouri Republican political establishment are switching course, though not everyone. Danforth still has not backed Akin, and multiple attempts by The Associated Press on Friday to reach Ashcroft were unsuccessful.
In his own statement, Bond pledged to help oust Democrats from the Senate majority and said Akin's rape comments "were unacceptable but he's apologized, I believe his regret is sincere, and it is time to focus on the national stakes in this election."
The endorsements came as Akin was answering questions about his characterization Thursday of McCaskill as not being very "ladylike" in a Sept. 21 debate.
Contrasting the approach with her 2006 debates against then-Sen. Talent, Akin said McCaskill "had a confidence and was very much more sort of ladylike and all."
McCaskill said Akin's remarks left her "a little speechless."
"I'm hoping that people will weigh in and defend me that I was polite and calm. This wildcat, you know, furious and unladylike is kind of a headscratcher," she said.
But Akin did not back off his assertion.
"We've got a couple words in the English language, one is a gentleman and a lady," Akin said Friday. "I think those are pretty self-explanatory terms, and I was using them just as the English language uses those terms."
While some appeared offended at those words, "it seems to me the offensive thing is the voting record that's destructive to the people of our state," Akin said.
In the Missouri House, where Akin began his political career, the rules of debate require lawmakers to refer to colleagues as "lady, gentleman or representative."
Also Friday, Akin said he had been arrested during an anti-abortion protest more than two decades ago, but he didn't provide details of where or when the event occurred.
In a video circulating widely on the Internet, Akin is seen discussing his involvement in an anti-abortion demonstration and says, "You know, don't tell anybody I'm a jail bird." He also says in the video that "a bunch of us sat in front of these doors and the police gave us a ride to the free hotel for a while, and you know how it goes."
Asked at a news conference Friday in Kansas City to confirm the arrest, Akin said: "Yeah, well, certainly. Probably about 25 years ago or so I was involved in some peaceful protests. As I've made very clear I don't apologize for being pro-life. I stand up for the things I believe in."
Akin's comments have loomed large in Missouri's Senate race since shortly after he won the Aug. 7 Republican primary. They also have generated ripples through national politics, including the presidential race and Republicans' efforts to gain the four seats necessary to win control of the Senate from Democrats.
Democrats have attempted to link Akin's "ladylike" comment to his remark about "legitimate rape" to suggest he is insensitive to women and to help drive their own fundraising efforts.
The Democratic National Committee and Emily's List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, both cited the remarks in fundraising emails Thursday. On Friday, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand highlighted Akin's remarks as the centerpiece of an online fundraising drive to raise $75,000 for McCaskill in two days.
Akin also received a recent fundraising boost, picking up the endorsement Thursday of the Senate Conservatives Fund, whose members pledged $290,000 for his campaign.