President Obama and Democrats have seized on the rape gaffe by disgraced Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin to energize a national effort to portray Mitt Romney and the GOP as engaged in a war on women.

Democrats have been blistering Republicans for months on their approach to contraceptives, abortion and equal pay for women, attempting to mobilize female voters.

But when Akin stumbled in the thicket of "legitimate rape" -- and doubted forced sex could lead to pregnancies -- Democrats were given a golden opportunity to exploit a glaring weakness for Republicans heading into November.

"Among the best tactics available to Democrats is to create divisions among the most likely voters," said Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "[The Akin incident] gives credence to the war on women because of the universally agreed idiocy of what he said. The more he hangs around, the more it becomes common think."

And every moment Romney spends denouncing the ill-advised comments of a fellow Republican represents a lost opportunity to focus on the president's handling of jobs.

The Romney campaign had banked that its economic focus would cut into Obama's commanding lead with women, particularly among suburbanites. Romney badly needs to make inroads with that crucial voting bloc, which gave Obama a 13 percentage-point advantage over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2008, exit polling showed.

The Obama campaign has devoted much of its focus in recent days to aligning the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket with Akin's condemned comments.

"Women across this country should take note of the Republican Party's position, and not trust any of the false promises made by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on the campaign trail," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Liz Smith.

But Sheinkopf cautioned the Obama camp from pushing too hard in grouping Romney and Ryan with Akin.

"What Akin said is so overwhelmingly stupid that you have to find a comparable behavior," he said. "That association with [the Republican presidential ticket] isn't clean enough."

For their part, some Republicans dismissed the Akin incident as isolated and in no way representative of the GOP.

"Any attempt by Democrats to imply that these comments are in any way in line with the opinion and views of Republicans will surely backfire," said Brian Donahue, a Republican strategist. "Anyone with a shred of knowledge about that incident can easily discern that those were Akin's comments and not any views shared by the national party."

However, the Romney team's rapid response to the controversy proved that it views this most recent episode as more potentially damaging than other flareups that could imperil Republican credibility among women voters.

And the political gains have proved too enticing for Obama's surrogates to resist.

In particular, Democrats aligned Akin with Ryan, a devout pro-life congressman who co-sponsored a bill with the Missouri Senate candidate that limited the definition of rape. The Romney campaign counters that a Romney administration would support abortions during instances of rape. But the GOP platform at the Republican National Convention next week will not include such language, according to drafts.