KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For establishment Republicans, it is decision time in the Missouri Senate race.
Should they return to Representative Todd Akin's corner?
Many quickly withdrew their support for Mr. Akin weeks ago after his controversial comments about abortion and victims of "legitimate rape" having a biological mechanism to fight off pregnancy, hoping to force him aside so another Republican candidate could battle the Democratic incumbent, Senator Claire McCaskill.
But Mr. Akin called their bluff. He stayed in the race, reckoning that election math would oblige them to stick with him.
Now, with Mr. Akin's name legally bound to the ballot, the election approaching and new polling data presenting a clearer idea of his chances, Republicans are deliberating whether to renege on their renege.
It is one of the trickiest dilemmas facing Republicans this election cycle: whether to give up on a race that could help decide which party controls the United States Senate or stand by Mr. Akin and risk hurting Republican candidates in other states.
"Are they willing to let a guy who should win a seat lose a seat because they sat on their hands?" asked Michael Centanni, the chairman of Freedom's Defense Fund, which announced late last month that it would spend a quarter-million dollars in support of Mr. Akin. "They're going to be in a much worse situation if he ends up losing by a point and they sat on the sidelines."
Newt Gingrich, who attended a fund-raiser for Mr. Akin on Sept. 24 near St. Louis, said Republicans who rushed to judgment against the candidate needed to consider the error of their decision.
"Akin's not the only one who made a mistake," he said in an interview. "Just as he had to eat a little bit of crow, there are some other folks" who will, too.
Some of the deep-pocketed donors, most notably the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who withdrew their financing and support of Mr. Akin inevitably will return, Mr. Gingrich said.
"I don't see how they'll avoid getting in the race," he added.
But Republicans should focus on more than the Senate math, said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri who quickly distanced himself from Mr. Akin after the candidate made his comments in August.
"Akin has come to symbolize a version of the Republican Party that's just not acceptable to an awful lot of people," Mr. Danforth said in an interview. "I don't know if he can win or not in the election in the Senate race, but I think this is bigger than one Senate seat. I think it's the brand of the Republican Party, and I think he taints the Republican Party."
While Mr. Danforth is maintaining his opposition to Mr. Akin, others are returning to his corner. Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, as well as Christopher S. Bond and Jim Talent, both former Republican senators from the state, recently endorsed Mr. Akin after initially urging him to step aside after his comments about rape and abortion.
"They're going to have to explain to voters whether they support his position on these issues or whether they're just acting in political expediency," said Caitlin Legacki, a spokeswoman for Ms. McCaskill.
Mr. Blunt declined a request for an interview. But in a statement released shortly after the Sept. 25 deadline for dropping out of the race had passed, he gave Mr. Akin an endorsement that sounded more obligatory than excited.
"Congressman Akin and I don't agree on everything, but he and I agree the Senate majority must change," Mr. Blunt said. "From Governor Romney to the county courthouse, I'll be working for the Republican ticket in Missouri, and that includes Todd Akin."
Other Senate Republicans have also backed Mr. Akin in recent days, including Tom Coburn and James M. Inhofe, both of Oklahoma, and Jim DeMint and Lindsey E. Graham, both of South Carolina. The four conservative senators hosted a fund-raising luncheon for Mr. Akin on Wednesday, with tickets costing from $250 to $2,500. Rick Santorum, the former senator and presidential candidate, also announced his support of Mr. Akin.
An adviser to Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, said in a television interview that Mr. Romney had not gotten behind Mr. Akin. And Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, also a Republican, said on television last Sunday that the Republican Party should not support Mr. Akin.
More important is the absence of million-dollar donor groups in Mr. Akin's corner.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee had intended to spend $3 million on the race, and American Crossroads, a "super PAC" founded by Karl Rove, had planned to spend $2.3 million before pulling their support because of Mr. Akin's comments. Both groups have been coy about their intentions, saying they did not plan to re-enter the race, but not ruling out the possibility.
Conservative donor groups appeared on edge and cagey about their deliberations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent nearly $350,000 opposing Ms. McCaskill before Mr. Akin won the nomination, has not spent anything in Missouri since. Rob Engstrom, the chamber's political director, responded to inquiries about the Missouri contest with a terse e-mail message saying only that the group had "no plans to engage" in the general election race.
Mr. Akin has received considerable pledges from some groups. The Senate Conservatives Fund has started a drive to raise $300,000 for him, and as of Friday evening it had collected more than $270.000. Freedom's Defense Fund has spent more than $66,000 on the race so far. Last weekend, CitizenLink, an evangelical group affiliated with Focus on the Family, spent $52,413.67 on the race.
But Mr. Akin is being vastly outspent by Ms. McCaskill -- who reported raising $5.8 million since July 1 -- and her allies. From Sept. 25 through last Monday, Ms. McCaskill's campaign spent nearly seven and a half times as much ($364,810) and ran more than 11 times as many ads as Mr. Akin's, according to data compiled by Kantar Media/CMAG, a firm that monitors political advertising. Outside groups backing Ms. McCaskill have spent more than $2 million, nearly four times as much as those supporting Mr. Akin.
While he welcomes the return of deep-pocketed donors and believes some will inevitably say, "Hey, I was too quick to judge Congressman Akin," Perry Akin, Mr. Akin's son and campaign manager, said he believed the campaign was on the right track.
"There's a lot of contrast between our messages," he said of the two campaigns. "We have adequate funding to be able to present that to the voters so they can make a decision on it."
But Todd Akin has had to deal with continued distractions that could scare away donors. His campaign had to go on the defensive after a video surfaced of a 2008 address he gave on the House floor in which he equated abortion providers to terrorists and said they commonly provided abortions to women who were not pregnant. Also, he had to amend 10 years of financial disclosure reports last week for failing to report nearly $130,000 in pension income.
The campaigns have been sharply attacking each other in ads -- with Mr. Akin painting Ms. McCaskill as a staunch Obama ally who supported the health care law and stimulus bill, and Ms. McCaskill painting her rival as an extremist whose views are out of line with those of Missouri's voters.
In his most recent commercial, Mr. Akin accuses Ms. McCaskill of benefiting from stimulus payments made to housing development companies associated with her husband. A recent McCaskill campaign ad questions comments Mr. Akin made about Social Security, Medicare, the minimum wage and student loans before bringing up the rape comment and asking, "What will he say next?"
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.