By DAVID A. LIEB and JIM SALTER
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A conservative fundraising group that had shied away from Missouri Rep. Todd Akin is now seriously considering whether to come to the embattled Republican's aid in his challenge to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, an official with the group said Monday.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, which has raised more than $11 million for other Republican Senate candidates, could provide a much-needed financial boost for Akin, who is facing a Tuesday deadline on whether to stay in the race. Akin vowed again Monday to remain in the contest. Appearing at a Kirkwood, Mo., rally with former presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, Akin said there had been discussions with the super PAC but no official agreement on aiding him.
The group previously had shied away from Akin, in part, because of his past use of spending earmarks to direct federal money to specific local projects. Earmarks now are banned in the Republican-controlled House, and Senate Republicans have voted not to use them.
In the primary, Akin aired an ad that touted a life saved by federal funding that some considered an earmark. But in a statement to The Associated Press last week, Akin said he backs a prohibition on earmarks in some circumstances.
"I support a ban on earmarks that are inserted in the dark of night or that are used by party leaders to buy support for their wasteful spending bills," Akin said in the written statement. "However, I want to make sure that Congress does its constitutional duty and retains the power of the purse rather than giving unelected bureaucrats all the power in Washington, D.C."
McCaskill, a vocal opponent of earmarks, suggested Akin had changed his position on earmarks in attempt to get campaign cash.
Akin's campaign is hoping to capitalize financially this week by demonstrating his resolve to remain in the race despite calls by some top Republicans that he quit after making inflammatory remarks about rape and pregnancy.
"There's no poll that shows this race is impossible," Gingrich said Monday. "I believe by mid-October all of them (Republican supporters) will be in."
Tuesday is the deadline for Missouri candidates to get a court order if they wish to drop out of the race. Akin has other plans for the day _ a campaign bus tour.
Republican leaders are not expected to pitch in. But Akin could get some other help, from a political action committee built in part by tea party star Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
The Senate Conservatives Fund had remained neutral in Missouri's Republican Senate primary, which Akin won in early August. But since then, Akin has discussed and clarified his position on earmarks with the organization, one official said.
"Our understanding is he supports an earmark ban," Matt Hoskins, director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said Monday.
The organization supports a ban or moratorium on earmarks that use legislation to direct a specific amount of money for a specific purpose in a certain state or congressional district.
Akin denied Monday that he had flip-flopped.
"The thing that makes it tricky for people to follow is there are a lot of different definitions," Akin said. "What I am totally against are things that are done in the dark of night, there's been no legislative approval and they're special deals for people."
He added: "The question is when you get into just plain amendments that have gone through subcommittees and committees and things like that, as long as those are not directed to any particular company ... those are things that, as we've talked to DeMint, we're exactly on the same page using the same definition. So there's been no change in our position. And no change in his position either."
Hoskins said the group is looking "very seriously" at supporting Akin, because it appears he will not drop out, still has a good shot at defeating McCaskill and generally aligns ideologically with the organization.
Akin has apologized repeatedly since a TV interview aired Aug. 19 in which he suggested that women's bodies have a natural defense against pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." After that remark, Akin lost the financial support of the Republican National Committee, the Republican senators' political committee and the deep-pocketed Crossroads group affiliated with Republican strategist Karl Rove. That nixed millions of dollars of planned TV advertising.
Since then, Akin has raised nearly $600,000 through a small-dollar, online appeal that has cast his candidacy as an anti-establishment crusade against both Republican Party bosses and President Barack Obama's administration.