JEFFERSON CITY — Abandoned by deep-pocketed national groups, Rep. Todd Akin is passing a collection plate among his remaining supporters, asking for a few dollars at a time in hopes of sustaining a Senate campaign jeopardized by his remarks about women's bodies and "legitimate rape."
Akin claimed Thursday to have taken in more than $100,000 during a two-day online fundraising drive that he portrayed as a grassroots effort to circumvent "party bosses" who demanded that he drop out. But the six-term Republican congressman from the St. Louis area will need much more than that to replenish a campaign account already diminished by a hotly contested primary.
"It's very difficult, when you have the limited base we have in Missouri, to send emails out asking for $3 at a time," said Pat Thomas, secretary of the Missouri Republican State Committee, who has worked as a coordinator for numerous candidates. "I don't know how to build a war chest to do that."
Akin now has to go forward without the firepower of well-funded political groups that had planned to pummel Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill with negative television ads.
If his money runs dry, Akin could confront a difficult choice: Re-evaluate whether to remain in the race or adopt a bare-bones strategy relying on social media and socially conservative activists to counter the millions of dollars of mass media advertising expected from McCaskill and her allies.
First, Akin has to repair his reputation with fellow conservatives and, according to Thomas, "get back to the point where people think you're credible."
Federal records show Akin has purchased enough air time to run apology ads in Missouri's biggest TV markets through at least Monday. Akin's campaign said Thursday that it has spent more than $200,000 on the statewide apology commercials while ad trackers for his Democratic opposition described it as a $277,000 effort.
He's also working to mend fences. On Thursday, Akin attended a meeting of the conservative Council for National Policy in Tampa, Fla., site of the Republican National Convention, which he has agreed not to attend. He tweeted that his Wednesday fundraising goal had been met.
"Thousands of people stepped up and helped us raise over $100,000! The message is clear ... voters should pick candidates, not party bosses," Akin said.
He then sent out a new fundraising email asking supporters to chip in $5 toward a goal of raising an additional $25,000. Earlier in the week, he pleaded for $3 donations.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also issued a fundraising plea for Akin on Thursday, accusing the "Republican establishment" of a "carefully orchestrated and systematic attack." If the national GOP and the "money-rich" political action committees "won't help Todd Akin get us to the majority, then we'll do it without them," Huckabee wrote.
Akin campaign spokesman Ryan Hite declined to say exactly how much has been raised by the online contributions, but he said they were just part of Akin's fundraising strategy, which still includes efforts to get larger donations from more traditional sources.
Akin's campaign has not revealed how much money it has left. Before Missouri's primary, financial papers showed he had a little over $530,000 as of July 18. But he has spent steadily on ads since then. The next quarterly report is not due until Oct. 15, barely three weeks before the general election.
After winning the primary, Akin gained quick backing from national Republican and conservative groups focused on ousting McCaskill. But that support evaporated after Akin was asked in an interview that aired Sunday on St. Louis television station KTVI whether his general opposition to abortion extended to women who have been raped.
"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," Akin said in the interview. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Since his comments, Akin has received numerous threats against him, his family and his staff, said Akin's congressional spokesman Steve Taylor. The U.S. Capitol Police confirmed Thursday that it has "an active, open investigation" into a threat against Akin.
The chairman of the Republican National Committee has urged Akin to quit the Senate race, as has presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, his vice presidential pick Paul Ryan and every living Republican who has represented Missouri in the Senate.
Although it still has TV advertising time reserved in Missouri, the National Republican Senatorial Committee says it will pull $5 million of planned ads if Akin stays in the race. The conservative Crossroads group, associated with Republican strategist Karl Rove, also halted its anti-McCaskill ads and said it will pull out of Missouri if Akin doesn't go.
FreedomWorks for America, a powerful organizer among tea party activists, had been likely to support Akin in the general election with door-to-door canvassers, phone calls, mailed fliers, yard signs and online advertising. Now the group has joined the chorus calling for Akin to give up.
He's getting the cold shoulder from other national organizations that typically support Republicans.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has aired TV ads against McCaskill, has no plans for further involvement in Missouri's Senate race, a spokeswoman said.
The conservative Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which both shied away from Akin in the primary because of his support for earmarked spending, have shown no inclination to come to his aid.
But Akin still has the backing of some anti-abortion groups.
The Republican National Coalition for Life still supports Akin and could direct money his way before the general election, said coalition Director Dianne Edmondson. However, she acknowledged that the group does not have deep finances. It gave $1,000 to Akin on July 31.
Missouri Right to Life remains staunchly behind Akin. But it has not typically waged big-dollar TV blitzes, either.
The political arm of the Family Research Council has already contributed to Akin and plans to try to fill part of his advertising vacuum.
The council's Faith Family Freedom Fund cannot match the $5 million that the Republican senatorial committee had planned to spend, acknowledged Chairman Connie Mackey. But "we think we've been pretty successful in going into some states on controversial candidates and issues."
Akin and the council hope that support for his campaign can snowball just as suddenly as it disintegrated.
"As it becomes clear that he is going to hang in there and be the candidate," Mackey said, "I would expect other groups go public with their support."