Newt Gingrich defends Todd Akin

As news came out Thursday that Republican Congressman Todd Akin was still neck-and-neck in the polls with Democratic rival Claire McCaskill in their run for a Missouri Senate seat, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said it wasn’t clear to him that Akin should drop out.

Akin incurred a firestorm of criticism from the left and right alike earlier this month when he said in a televised interview that in cases of “legitimate rape” women’s bodies could spontaneously intervene to prevent pregnancy.

Republicans, who wanted to distance themselves from the junk science of the remarks as well as the concept of legitimate rape, began to call for Akin to leave the race. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said that Akin hurt the Republican party, while vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan made a personal plea to him to drop out of the running.

But Gingrich said it was all overreaction.

“This is a good example of why the power structure in Washington should sometimes take a deep breath, count to ten, and go on vacation or something,” Gingrich told an audience at a Politico-sponsored event in Tampa. “Todd Akin made a mistake. He’s an honorable guy, he’s a sincere guy. He said something stupid.”

Gingrich said Republicans had an “unfortunate tendency” to rush to judgment against members of their own party, and that Akin now faced the end of a lifetime of public service over six seconds of foolish commentary.

Whether he chose to drop out now, Gingrich said, was up to him.

“ The polls show that the people of Missouri by a majority do not want him to get off. Neither Democrat, Republican, or Independent want him to get off the ticket,” he said. “…I think he’s got a big decision.

A survey by Public Policy Polling showed Akin trailing McCaskill by only one point, 44 to 45 percent, on Thursday.