(CBS News) -- Republicans had expected to pick up a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri because Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill was in trouble there. But then her GOP challenger, Todd Akin, was denounced by his own party for things he had said about rape. Tuesday was the deadline for Akin to drop out and clear the way for another Republican candidate, and he didn't.
Congressman Akin said he owes it to his supporters to stay in the race.
"I don't believe that is really my decision. The decision was made by the voters of the state of Missouri," he said to an audience and was greeted by applause.
It's an announcement establishment Republicans have been dreading, ever since Akin, who opposes abortion even in the case of rape, said women rarely become pregnant from rape.
"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," he said in August.
Many leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, called on Akin to get out of the race, fearing his remarks would send women fleeing from the Republican Party.
Top Republican fundraiser Karl Rove withdrew his promise to shower super PAC money on Akin's campaign. He told a group of Republican contributors, in what he thought was a secret meeting: "We should sink Todd Akin. If he's found mysteriously murdered, don't look for my whereabouts."
Rove apologized and Akin said now the attacks from leaders of his own party are firing up his conservative supporters.
"And I believe it's backfiring," said Akin, "and my sense is that there is a tremendous grassroots movement in this state to say, 'We are tired of all these people in authority trying to impose more Washington down our throats.'"
All the turmoil has been a blessing for Akin's opponent, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. A supporter of health care reform, she was given little chance of winning re-election in this increasingly conservative state.
But the polls now show her with a small lead, which she attributes in part to Akin's comment on abortion.
"But I think what has happened in this race has re-energized a lot of our supporters," said McCaskill, "and so our volunteers are up, our low-level donations are up."
The Missouri Senate seat was supposed to be an easy pick up for the Republicans. But now if they lose, many Republicans here in Missouri say the party leaders back in Washington will have no one to blame but themselves.