CARNEGIE, Pa. – As Rep. Paul Ryan prepared to address a crowd of more than 1,000 Tuesday morning at a steel supply factory in this borough southwest of Pittsburgh, a sign greeting his motorcade underscored the difficulty the GOP ticket faces in light of the Todd Akin controversy.
“Ryan and Akin Agree: Only Some Rapes Count,” read the poster, held by one of two dozen protesters down the street from Beaver Steel Services.
In the days since the news first broke of Akin’s remark that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy, Democrats have endeavored to tie the GOP presidential ticket to the embattled Senate nominee from Missouri.
They’ve labeled as “The Akin Plank” a newly approved section of the GOP platform opposing abortion and making no mention of exceptions in the case of rape or incest.
And they’ve sought to make their case by pointing to Ryan’s record in the House, where he has served with Akin since the Missouri Republican was first elected in 2000; Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement Monday that the Wisconsin congressman in 2011 “worked with Mr. Akin to try to pass laws that would ban abortion in all cases, and even narrow the definition of ‘rape.’ ”
Now it appears that Democratic criticism is following Ryan on the road.
In addition to the handful of protesters awaiting him at his Pittsburgh area speech, an airplane sponsored by MoveOn.org and bearing the banner “Ryan + Akin Voted to Redefine Rape” is expected to greet him later Tuesday when he arrives in West Chester, Pa., for a rally at the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center.
The Romney-Ryan ticket moved to counter the Democratic offensive early with a statement Sunday that the GOP White House hopefuls “disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
Both Ryan and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney also denounced Akin’s remarks in joint television interviews Monday.
But Democrats appear to believe that Ryan’s conservative stance on social issues, paired with his tenure with Akin in the House, have given them a window of opportunity to draw attention to Ryan’s House record as well as to portray him as in league with Akin.
Several Romney-Ryan supporters who attended the candidate’s Tuesday morning event here appeared baffled by Akin’s comments but brushed off the notion that the controversy could have a broader impact on the presidential race.
“I have no idea what that meant. . . . It’s an illegitimate act to begin with,” said Michael Morgan, a 56-year-old retiree from New Wilmington, Pa., of Akin’s “legitimate rape” remark. “It was a stupid comment; it’s not really an issue they should be discussing in the first place. They should be talking about jobs and the economy.”
Some attendees described the Akin comment as a slip-of-the-tongue similar to Vice President Biden’s “back in chains” remark at a Virginia campaign stop last week — and chalked up the intraparty furor over Akin to a difference between the two parties.
“The Republicans hold their people to a higher standard, and the Democrats cover for them,” said Carole Davis, a 78-year-old retired schoolteacher from Canonsburg, Pa. “Biden can say any doggone thing he wants to and get away with it.”
She added: “It’s a brush fire that they have to put out. It’s not Romney or Ryan who said this.”
Ryan called Akin on Monday afternoon and renewed his criticism of the congressman’s comments while stopping short of calling on him to drop out, according to multiple reports.
Ryan spokesman Michael Steel would not confirm or deny the reports.
“If Representative Ryan has spoken or does speak to Representative Akin, that will be a private conversation,” he told reporters aboard the Ryan campaign plane late Monday.
Asked Tuesday afternoon about the differences between Romney and Ryan on whether there should be exceptions for abortion in cases of rape or incest, Steel acknowledged that the GOP ticket’s current position reflects the views of Romney, not of Ryan.
“He knows he’s joining the Romney-Ryan ticket,” Steel said of Ryan. He added that a Romney-Ryan administration “will reflect the views of the nominee.”
He also downplayed the fact that the GOP platform more closely reflects Ryan’s views than Romney’s views on the issue.
“It’s not at all uncommon to have slight differences between the platform and the nominee,” he said.