Twitter was ablaze today over comments made about rape and pregnancy by Rep. Todd Akin (R), the Republican challenger to Missiouri Sen. Clarie McCaskill (D).

But in the wake of the furor, the congressman said he “misspoke.”

Akin gave an interview with local Fox affiliate KTVI in which he was asked about abortion in the instance of rape. “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said of pregnancy resulting from sexual assault. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

“But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something,” Akin added. “You know I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

The congressman did not elaborate on what he meant by “legitimate rape” or the mechanism for naturally stopping pregnancy.

Democrats jumped on the soundbite. “As a woman & former prosecutor who handled 100s of rape cases,I’m stunned by Rep Akin’s comments about victims this AM,” McCaskill tweeted. Her campaign homepage added a donation plea after Akin’s quote.

Akin’s name, McCaskill’s, “legitimate rape,” “don’t get pregnant,” and “Republican Senate nominee” trended on Twitter.

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” Akin said in a just-released statement. “Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.”

The most recent poll released one week ago on the Missouri Senate race had Akin up on McCaskill by 11 points, with an even wider 14-point margin among women.