Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. and former GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum have issued a joint statement endorsing embattled Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

They called Akin “a principled conservative who is committed to winning and fighting for freedom in the U.S. Senate.”

Akin had been expected to beat Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill until an August radio interview in which he suggested that if a “legitimate rape” occurs, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

The comment set off a firestorm, and even some Republicans had urged Akin to drop out of the race —which he refused to do. Akin later expressed empathy for rape victims and acknowledged that rapes can cause pregnancy. His poll numbers have rebounded somewhat since McCaskill took the lead.

Wednesday’s joint statement from DeMint and Santorum sidestepped that controversy except for its last phrase.

“If Republicans are to win back the Senate and stop President Obama’s liberal agenda, we must defeat Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri,” it said.

“Her support of President Obama’s job-killing, big-spending policies are sending our country into an economic abyss. ... Todd will work to stop reckless spending, stop the out of control debt, repeal the government takeover of healthcare, support our military and defend life at every stage.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.