This post has been updated.
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) is in Tampa not for the Republican National Convention, but for a conference held by the Council for National Policy, an influential and secretive social conservative group.
Politico first reported on the meeting. CNN later added that Akin planned to attend the event long before he made his comments on "legitimate rape." But he has been meeting privately with conservative leaders, some of whom have encouraged him to continue his campaign against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D). Others, CNN reports, are sympathetic but still think Akin should end his bid.
Faith & Freedom Coalition Founder Ralph Reed told CNN that he spoke with Akin and that he thinks Akin is "going to be able to make a thorough assessment of whether or not the support is there to be able to continue the campaign."
Akin's campaign spokesman, Ryan Hite, sought to knock down reports that the candidate was meeting with the group to decide what to do. Hite told The Post in an e-mail Thursday night: "The Congressman is not re-evaluating, he is determined and confident as he states multiple times earlier this week. He is committed to staying in this race."
Founded by prominent Christian conservatives in 1981 as a counterweight to left-leaning policy groups, the CNP "brings together the country's most influential conservative leaders in business, government, politics, religion, and academia," according to its website. Members are "united in their belief in limited government, a strong national defense, and support for traditional western values."
CNP conventions are held regularly, but information is closely guarded. Membership is confidential, conversations are not discussed publicly and guests can attend only with "the unanimous approval of the executive committee," according to a memo obtained by the New York Times in 2004. Executive director Steve Baldwin told ABC News in 2002 that "there's a lot of stuff out there claiming we're a lot more than we are" but would give little detail on the group's events.
Some prominent social conservatives, including the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer and the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, have defended Akin against the Republicans who are urging the Missouri Senate candidate to end his campaign. While he was never a powerful force on Capitol Hill, Akin has been a hero to Christian groups in his 11-year career.
Jan Klarich, a former Missouri Republican official and former chair of the state's Christian Coalition, said her phone has been ringing off the hook with pastors and others asking her whether they should stick with Akin. While most party officials are urging him to step down, she said he seems to be maintaining support from the grassroots and the social conservative group the Eagle Forum, headed by Phyllis Schlafly.
Stephanie McCrummen and Aaron Blake contributed to this report.