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A growing list of Republicans and conservatives are calling for longtime Republican adviser Karl Rove to step away from GOP campaign efforts after the strategist jested that he might have to murder Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.

William Murray, who heads the Government is Not God Political Action Committee and chairs the Religious Freedom Coalition, said today that the comment “was so distasteful as to shame the entire Republican Party.”

“Congressman Akin made a misstatement on the subject of rape and conception for which he apologized,” he said. “Apparently Karl Rove believes the apology is not enough and that Akin should pay with his life. Jokes about murder are not jokes when it comes to politicians where the risks of assassination are real.”

Conservative icon and founder of the Eagle Forum Phyllis Schlafly echoed the calls for Rove’s resignation.

“Karl Rove has made himself toxic to Republicans by his incredibly offensive and dangerous statement suggesting the murder of Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri,” Schlafly said in a statement. “Any candidate or network who hires Rove will now be tarnished with this most malicious remark ever made in Republican politics.”

The Associated Press reported late today that Rove did apologize for the comments, and Akin campaign adviser Rick Tyler said the candidate accepted the apology during a telephone call.

But Schlafly says it’s not enough.

“A private phone call by Rove to Akin to sort of apologize does not erase the public offense,” she said. “At the very least Rove should make a public apology. But even that can’t wipe out his gross political mistake.

“Rove has been calling on Todd Akin to resign,” she continued, “but the one who should resign because he made an embarrassing, malicious and downright stupid remark is Karl Rove.”

Joseph Farah, founder and CEO at WND.com, has said Rove’s “got to go.”

“Here’s a guy who went ballistic over an innocent slip of the tongue – demanding that the GOP candidate for Senate in Missouri quit the race over it,” Farah said. “Now it’s time for Rove to follow his own advice.”

Farah called Rove “a major liability to the Republican effort.”

“Just out of sheer decency standards, Fox News should drop him as a contributor,” he said. “Sean Hannity should stop pumping up this mean-spirited political operative as ‘the architect.’ Mitt Romney should denounce his remark and ask Rove to step aside in this campaign.”

Farah contended that what Rove said “is far more serious and dangerous than anything coming out of Todd Akin’s mouth.”

“Rove has self-destructed,” he said.

Farah likewise asserted an apology is not enough.

“Akin apologized, too. But that wasn’t enough for Rove,” he said. “Akin has shown he is a much bigger man than Karl Rove. It’s time for Rove to go.”

The reactions were to a report in Businessweek that discussed an exclusive breakfast at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The report said Rove took the stage at the Tampa Club for a briefing with about 70 of the most important GOP donors.

“During the hour-long session, Rove explained to an audience dotted with hedge fund billionaires and investors – including John Paulson and Wilbur Ross – how his super PAC, American Crossroads, will persuade undecided voters in crucial swing states to vote against Barack Obama,” the report said.

In was in the context of congressional races that Rove then made the comment, according to the report.

Rove detailed plans for Senate and House races and joked, “We should sink Todd Akin. If he’s found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!”

Murray was among those who continued to support Akin amid the media storm after the candidate misspoke about abortion and rape and apologized repeatedly for his error. Akin said that in the case of “legitimate,” or forcible, rape, women’s bodies are capable of preventing pregnancy.

According to the Washington Post, Akin’s office issued a statement describing the comment from Rove as disturbing, noting the FBI already was investigating threats made against the candidate.

A WND email to Rove has not generated a response.

The Businesweek report by Sheelah Kolhatkar explained she had been invited as a guest of a financier who is a “significant” GOP donor.

“At no point was I presented with, nor did I agree to, restrictions regarding the information I heard,” the column said. “American Crossroads disputes this version of events, but a spokesman did not immediately return calls to elaborate.”

The discussion by Rove was a “strategy for winning the White House.”

“The people we’ve got to win in this election, by and large, voted for Barack Obama,” Rove explained.

He said focus groups, polling and other information pointed to major groups with a role, and said: “We don’t try and do this alone. We have partners. … the Kochs – you name it.”

Rove said the key would be reminding people what Obama promised and what he has failed to accomplish.

According to the report, Rove said, “If you keep it focused on the facts and adopt a respectful tone, then they’re gonna agree with you.”

Discussing congressional and Senate races, Rove said he’s confident the GOP will pick up a few seats but said the biggest risk is Akin. Businessweek said Rove “urged every attendee to apply pressure on Akin to convince him to leave the race.”

“We have five people who are interested” in replacing Akin, the report quoted Rove saying. “We don’t care who the nominee is, other than get Akin out.”

As a result of the misstatement, many polls showed Akin’s support plunging. But the most recent surveys have indicated he’s about even with the incumbent Democrat, Claire McCaskill.

Akin told the Associated Press he intends to keep campaigning and win, just as supporters gave him the GOP primary win.

“I would be betraying their trust if I stepped down,” he said.

The Kansas City Star reported Akin’s staff was alarmed by the Rove statement.

Akin’s district director, Steve Taylor, said, “My staffers are living under threat. There’s an FBI investigation into threats against the congressman. There have been threats against his family and staff. I am disappointed by that type of statement given what’s going on and the rhetoric and the current investigation.”

Ryan Bomberger of LifeNews.com said Rove’s comment was “about as hilarious as a rape joke.” “I’m sure Akin’s family wouldn’t be laughing about the political guru’s punch line. His comment is far more outrageous than Akin’s feeble attempt to answer a question about abortion and rape, but I predict little to no uproar from either political corner,” he wrote.

Ilya Gerner at Comedy Central wrote, “It had better be an illegitimate murder attempt if there’s any chance of it working.”

The Missouri Farm Bureau is reportedly reconsidering its support for Akin.

Murray, son of the nation’s most famous atheist, the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair, has been in the news recently with the release of his book “My Life Without God.”

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