CHESTER, Va. (AP) — Missouri Republican Congressman Todd Akin's incendiary comments about "legitimate" rapes not resulting in pregnancies found an extraordinary tinder box in Virginia, where the GOP a few months ago learned firsthand the fury of a woman scorned.

Just as the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan Republican ticket was landing bruising blows on President Barack Obama's stewardship of the economy and handling of America's debt crisis, Akin's televised comments pre-empted the GOP's cohesive message and angered Virginia women anew.

For the GOP ticket in a battleground state, that's never helpful.

"He's a disaster, a freakin' disaster," longtime GOP volunteer Tom Van Aucken of Chesterfield said of Akin. "Every party has its idiot politician, and I guess he's ours."

"He made a big, big, major mistake," said Delegate Riley Ingram, a moderate Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates recalling his response to Akin's televised interview last Sunday. "I said to myself, 'Oh God, this is a mess!'"

Ingram keenly remembers the wrath he and fellow GOP lawmakers endured in February when they were pilloried and parodied nationally over Republican legislation that would have forced women to undergo vaginally invasive ultrasound exams before having abortions.

In several protests on Capitol grounds in Richmond, thousands of women protested what one female Democratic legislator called "state-mandated rape." One demonstration ended in the arrest of 30 people on the Capitol steps by police in riot gear. NBC's "Saturday Night Live" lampooned it, as did Comedy Central's Jon Stewart.

Perhaps because of that, last week's denunciations from some Virginia Republican politicians were particularly swift and thundering after Akin asserted that pregnancies seldom result from a "legitimate" rape. Overnight, Akin's comfortable lead in polls over Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri's race evaporated, and Republicans in key races were running for cover.

In Virginia, George Allen's deadlocked race against Democrat Tim Kaine took on even more importance for Republican hopes of taking Senate control from the Democrats. Allen, running to win back the seat he lost six years ago to Sen. Jim Webb after a campaign-killing blunder of his own, released a statement by 8 a.m. Monday condemning Akin and noting that he opposes abortion but supports exceptions to allow it in cases of rape.

Allen couldn't afford to tarry. He supported a bill in his previous Senate term that would have granted legal rights of personhood to human embryos from the instant of conception, a distinction that critics say would not only outlaw all forms of abortion but would make some forms of birth control illegal as well. He has since clarified his position that it should not apply to contraceptives.

His wife, Susan, has kept almost as rigorous a campaign road schedule as he has as both parties vie for the votes of women, who comprise 52 percent of Virginia's registered electorate. She played almost no role in his failed 2006 campaign.

On Thursday, for good measure, Allen campaigned inside She Chester, a women's boutique filled with scarves, costume jewelry, accessories, and the sweet smells of potpourri and citrus-scented candles. In his remarks to a few dozen supporters — mostly women — arrayed around showcases and stocked shelves, Allen focused on national unemployment rates topping 8 percent for more than 40 months and the consequences to Virginia of military cuts looming in January if debt-reduction provisions Congress passed a year ago take effect. He even hawked the shop's $10 earrings, but never mentioned Ryan or anything about abortion.

"I deplored his statement and the rationale behind it," Allen said afterward. And that's about all he's going to say about it as Republicans look to steer the political narrative back to economic issues as the party's national convention begins in Florida.

"We're running our campaign on the issues that we think are important," Allen said.

Gov. Bob McDonnell also quickly denounced Akin's remarks. By Friday, he was clearly annoyed that Akin remained a distraction heading into the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where McDonnell has a primetime speaking role.

"Look, this was a comment by a congressman from Missouri. It's clearly not reflective of Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney," he said in a telephone interview. "I heard it and I said that those were wrong, insulting comments that have nothing to do with science."

"No matter how much the Democrats want to make it about (Romney's) tax returns and Bain Capital and social issues, it's not," he said.

Yet the convention's platform committee, with McDonnell as its chairman, fueled the controversy on Monday by adopting a plank to the party platform that calls for a constitutional ban on abortion without even the exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of a pregnant woman that McDonnell himself supports.

"This has been a plank that's been in the Republican platform for decades, and ... all the specifics are left to the states. What we're simply doing is affirming that we're the pro-life party, we always have been, and the other side is the pro-choice party. Now, Americans can decide whether they want to vote pro-life or pro-choice and whether that's the issue that they're actually going to vote on," the governor said.

Maybe that's where voters like Mary Sullins of Chester come in. She lost her job with Chesterfield County's public schools a few years ago, and her husband was laid off from his private information-technology job in the economic meltdown of 2008 and has been underemployed since.

"What Akin said was stupid," she said, clutching a few Allen bumper stickers as she left the boutique. "But you know what? It costs me $60 to fill my car with gas. It costs me $100 every time I go to the grocery store. I can't afford those $10 earrings he (Allen) was talking about."

"For me, it's about this fixing this economy and jobs, and it offends me when people try to tell me this other stuff is more important," she said.


Bob Lewis has covered Virginia government and politics for The Associated Press since 2000.