TAMPA, Fla. - Aaron Chandler, a 32-year-old marketing analyst from Kansas City, Mo., was sitting at a table of Ron Paul supporters here at a Missouri Republican delegation breakfast.
Clad in a pinstripe suit, punctuated by a blue striped tie and a "Goldwater in '64" button on his right lapel, Chandler talked about what's been on the minds of everyone in the Show Me State delegation lately: embattled Rep. Todd Akin (R), the party's nominee for Senate there.
With GOP convention activities postponed for a day because of Hurricane Isaac, Missourians have had a lot of time to discuss Akin, as well as the politics and science of abortion. And over cornflakes and whole fruit this morning, these delegates revealed just how difficult the Akin situation has become both for the state party and the national establishment.
"I don't think he really thought that through before he spoke," Chandler said of Akin's erroneous remark that women's bodies have the ability to shut down pregnancy in cases of what he termed "legitimate rape."
"I don't think it reflects on him as a person," Chandler said. "I think that he has had personal attacks because of it that he doesn't necessarily deserve. I think ultimately he's a good guy. He was just quoting a book that a doctor had written, and he did a bad job of paraphrasing that."
When asked if he believes in the science behind Akin's comments, Chandler said, "I do acknowledge that there's scientific evidence that if a woman is forcibly raped - physical assault - that the body has a natural defense mechanism that sometimes will prevent fertilization. ... There's evidence that shows that that is a possibility."
Though many Republicans are anti-abortion, the conversation about abortion in the case of rape and incest - and even ample evidence that pregnancy can and does occur from rape - has divided the party and detracted from attacks on President Barack Obama and the economy.
Ralph Munyan, 54, also from Kansas City, Mo., wore an "Akin for Senate" sticker on his left jacket pocket. He said it's a conversation starter and "that's part of the reason I wear it."
Munyan has just listened to Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) address his fellow delegates, and though he is "not always happy with Speaker Boehner," he said he appreciates his diplomacy and personal charm.
Munyan said Missourians should support their nominee, selected in a tough three-way primary earlier this month, because that's whom voters chose.
The awkwardness and the discontent among Missouri delegates, who lost an electoral vote in the latest round of the census, was palpable. A lot of Paul supporters lingered, and the reception for Josh Romney, one of presumptive GOP nominee's five sons, was lukewarm at best. Former Rick Santorum backers reluctantly donned "Romney-Ryan" stickers, because, in their words, it's better than the alternative: four more years of Obama and six more years of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
Former Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, who got the most enthusiastic reaction from the crowd, told Roll Call after his speech that he's left lots of voicemails for Akin, trying to get him out of the race.
"I don't know. Try to call him. I have. I've left lots of calls and his voicemail mailbox is full! Give him a call. See what he has to say. You'd have to talk to him," Bond said, with a sense of exasperation that seems to have imbued all of the Missouri state party officials standing at the perimeter of the breakfast's ballroom.
"I joined with the four other former Republican Senators - [Jack] Danforth, [John] Ashcroft, me, [Jim] Talent, four of us - I joined with [Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)] to say, please, for the good of your party and the good of your cause, get out," Bond said. "It has hurt the ticket in Missouri significantly and it has threatened the cause for which Todd Akin believes so strongly.
"The polls show that Obama has gone ahead of [Mitt] Romney again in Missouri. And the state ticket, all the state officeholders are up, and I think they're in great danger, as are several of our Congressmen," the former four-term Senator added.
Bond said that he has no interest in returning to the public sphere, despite the chatter from GOP insiders that he would be a good fit for the seat.
Akin is not here in Tampa, skipping the convention at the urging of the national leaders who have disowned him, in one of the few calls the conservative Congressman actually has heeded. Leaders across the convention are being grilled with questions on whether the Republican Party has lost touch with the female voters it needs to win back the White House and the Senate.
And that potentially debilitating political fault line runs right through this airport Marriott in Tampa, with Missouri Republicans otherwise worried about how to make sure they don't bungle their delegate votes for Romney.
"I don't trust the system to find someone to replace him," shrugged one delegate to another about Akin, as he headed out the double-doors.
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