Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s Tuesday comments on rape have sparked off quite the controversy, but it remains to be seen how much damage — if any — they will inflict on his campaign in the final two weeks before the election.
At Tuesday night’s debate with his Democratic opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly, Mourdock said that he did not believe in exceptions for abortion in cases of rape because, after what he described as a long struggle, he had come “to realize life is a gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Mourdock clarified Tuesday evening and, again, at a Wednesday morning press conference, that he did not in any way mean to suggest that God condoned rape.
Democrats jumped on the issue immediately and called for Republicans to denounce Mourdock’s statement. And by Wednesday morning, Rep. Mike Pence, the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate in Indiana, had done just that.
“I strongly disagree with the statement made by Richard Mourdock during last night’s Senate debate,” Pence said. “I urge him to apologize.”
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who was scheduled to campaign with Mourdock on Wednesday, will no longer travel to Indiana. Mourdock said Wednesday that the event was cancelled at his suggestion because he did not want her to “get dragged into a situation.”
Mitt Romney distanced himself from the comments.
“Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock, and Mr. Mourdock’s comments do not reflect Gov. Romney’s views,” said spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest but still support him.”
Romney cut an ad recently to help Mourdock, who is locked in a closely tied race with Donnelly in a state where Romney leads Obama by about 13 points. In an effort to link the two candidates, Democrats are pressuring Romney to pull the ad from the air and rescind his endorsement of Mourdock.
“While Mitt Romney is rightly distancing himself from Richard Mourdock today, his ad endorsing Mourdock’s extreme candidacy continues to air in Indiana,” said DSCC Chair Patty Murray. “If Mitt Romney is serious about repudiating these heinous views on rape, he will take down this ad immediately. National Republicans cannot paper over Richard Mourdock’s heinous views on rape. Enough is enough. The Republican Party needs to stop the coddling and take a stand against the horribly offensive and dangerous views of the Tea Party and their extreme candidates.”
At his press conference, Mourdock said he had not spoken with anyone in the Romney campaign Wednesday morning. The Romney campaign does not appear to have any intention of asking Mourdock to pull the ads.
Democrats evidently see the comment as on par with Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments, which caused such an uproar back in August that national Republicans pressured him to withdraw from the race and many withdrew monetary support for him.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which was one of the groups who pulled out of the Missouri race, does not appear to have any intention of rescinding its support of Mourdock. NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn issued a statement in support of the Indiana Republican on Wednesday.
“Richard and I, along with millions of Americans — including even Joe Donnelly — believe that life is a gift from God,” he said. “To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous. In fact, rather than condemning him for his position, as some in his party have when it’s comes to Republicans, I commend Congressman Donnelly for his support of life.”
Pro-life groups also said that they remain solidly in Mourdock’s corner.
“We support Richard Mourdock in his belief in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death,” said Concerned Women for America PAC CEO and President Penny Nance. “The issue at stake here is more of a theological question, and it needs to be discussed in a more in-depth and sensitive manner among people who understand the theology of God’s sovereignty in the midst of evil acts.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony list, also voiced support for Mourdock.
“Richard Mourdock said that life is always a gift from God, and we couldn’t agree more,” she said in a statement. “To report his statement as an endorsement of rape is either willfully ignorant or malicious.”
Indiana Right to Life Political Action Committee Chairman Mike Fichter told LifeNews that he also supported Mourdock.
It remains to be seen if the rape comments will damage Mourdock’s election hopes in the way that they did Akin’s. However, Akin was favored to win the race before he sounded off on “legitimate rape”, and polls show he is still running neck-and-neck with unpopular Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
But Mourdock was underperforming in Indiana even before Tuesday’s debate. He’s tied with his Democratic opponent in a traditionally Republican state that is widely expected to go for Romney. And with just two weeks until election day, Mourdock may not have sufficient time to recover from Democratic attacks should they gain traction.