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Conservative women divided on Akin

TAMPA, Fla. -- Almost two weeks ago, Missouri Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin found himself mired in controversy after his remarks about "legitimate rape" and his doubts that a woman could get pregnant after being raped. Since then, many Republican leaders have called for Akin to withdraw from the race, while some conservative leaders (like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee) have defended him.

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According to interviews with a handful of conservative women here at the Republican convention, opinions about Akin are mixed, with some believing he should remain in the contest. “I think he should stay in," said Mary Summa, an attorney and Republican activist from Charlotte, N.C. "Everybody makes a mistake. It was stupid, it was incorrect, it was wrong. But the guy’s a good man." 

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But others think he should step aside. “When something happens like [Akin’s] statement, it’s disappointing to women because rape is the most awful thing that can happen to a woman,” said Suzanne Terrell, a delegate from New Orleans. 

Some of those interviewed are delegates to the convention; others are activists who have gathered here in Tampa. Here are their opinions in their own words: 

Mary Summa
Attorney and Republican activist from Charlotte, North Carolina
Member of the Republican Party Platform Committee 
“I think he should stay in.  Everybody makes a mistake. It was stupid, it was incorrect, it was wrong, but the guy’s a good man.  And he made a misstatement.  He apologized a thousand times.  You know, I think Republicans are really good at eating their own… I don’t think he should get out.  And it’s up to Missouri.  If they want him out, they can get him out.” 

“I’m very pro-life and from my perspective I think it was mountains out of molehills, and the Republicans were the ones who made mountains out of molehills.  We have got to understand – and this is my humble opinion –the inherent dignity of the human person and the right to live is the lynchpin of freedom.  And once we lose that freedom, we will lose every freedom we have.” 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush joins Morning Joe from the RNC floor to preview his Thursday night speech. Bush says his speech will focus on education and why it is of national purpose for the country to improve in education. Bush also discusses Todd Akin's rape comments and Romney's pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate.

Suzanne Terrell
Delegate from New Orleans, Louisiana
(Terrell runs two organizations working to elect Republican women to office: Project GoPink and ShePAC.  The organizations did not take a position on the Akin controversy, though Terrell said she thought Akin should have stepped aside.  Her organizations supported Akin’s opponent in the Missouri primary, Sarah Steelman.) 

“When something happens like [Akin’s] statement it’s disappointing to women because rape is the most awful thing that can happen to a woman.” “There are [certain] issues that women are better spokespeople on.  Perhaps the Republican Party – and I think they got it this time – needs to encourage more of that conversation, and that sensitivity, that this man clearly was lacking.”  

Natalie Lavering, a delegate from Lake Stevens, Wash., and Heidi Shaw, who is a guest of the Washington state delegation.
Natalie:  "It was an unfortunate comment." 
Heidi:  "He shouldn’t have said it.  I was disappointed in that statement… I thought he was a total idiot to say that."    

Penny Young Nance
Concerned Women for America President 
“[Akin] put not only his foot, but his entire leg in his mouth – and then he kept talking… He apologized and he should have.  Because he really blew it.   However, I don’t think it’s Washington’s place to tell the people of Missouri what to do.”

“[Akin is] pro-life.  He believes in a life exception for the mother.  He believes that in cases of rape that the rapist should be punished, but he thinks it’s still a baby, and so do I.  I have friends… that are products of rape.  And I don’t think that at the end of the day an abortion helps a woman that has been raped.  I think that it further wounds her.  And in addition to the fact that there’s 2-million parents waiting on babies.  No one has to keep a baby they don’t want.”

In his RNC speech, Mitt Romney is expected to convey optimism and emphasize the importance of women's contributions in the political arena. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.