Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said Wednesday that his controversial comments regarding conception following rape are being taken out of context. At a Tuesday night debate versus Democratic opponent Joe Donnelly, he said that when women become pregnant after being raped, “that’s something God intended.”
The Indiana state treasurer said Tuesday in response to a question about abortion rights: "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something God intended to happen."
Mourdock, a favorite of Tea Party supporters, said Wednesday that his comments were inelegantly stated, and subsequently mischaracterized by Democrats.
"I am a much more humble person this morning. Because so many people mistook, twisted, came to misunderstand the points that I was trying to make," he said at a press conference in Indiana. "And if, because of the lack of clarity in my words, that they came away with the impression other than I stated a moment ago -- that life is precious, that I abhor violence and that I'm confident God abhors violence and rape -- if they came away with any impression other than that, I truly regret it."
Mourdock's comments not only threaten to make a competitive Senate race more challenging for the GOP, but also, by proxy, exacerbate Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's struggles with female voters.
Romney appeared in a television ad on Monday that endorsed Mourdock, the only such ad the GOP standard-bearer has cut for a Senate candidate this cycle. The Romney campaign released a statement on Tuesday evening taking exception to the Indiana Senate candidate's comments, and Mourdock said on Wednesday that he hadn't spoken to Romney or any other Republican who had urged him to apologize.
Romney's campaign issued a statement on Wednesday reiterating its support for Mourdock, while emphasizing its differences from Mourdock on allowing abortion in cases of rape and when the mother’s health is in danger.
Democrats have tried to make hay of the controversy, releasing a flurry of statements demanding that Romney more forcefully disavow Mourdock and take down the television ad. (Mourdock said Wednesday that the ads continued to run in Indiana.)
"For those who kind of want to twist the comments, and use them for partisan, political gain -- I think that's wrong with Washington these days," Mourdock said of the response his comments had provoked. "I'm confident that Hoosier voters are going to be moving on and supporting us in big numbers in 13 days."
The controversy threatened to remind voters of other Republicans' comments this election about rape, most notably Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's comments earlier this summer asserting that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy. Republicans more sharply distanced themselves from Akin, a congressman, and urged him to drop out of the race.
Akin never withdrew, though, a move which is widely regarded to have hurt the GOP's chances of beating Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri and, by extension, retake the U.S. Senate. Republicans must pick up a bet of four seats on Nov. 6 -- three, if Romney is elected president -- in order to wrest control of the upper chamber from Democrats. The GOP entered the 2012 elections with hopes of achieving that goal, but candidates' missteps and better-than-expected performances by some Democrats have made control of the Senate an open question in this election.
Whether this hurts Mourdock's race versus Donnelly -- or is able to translate into a political millstone for Romney -- is an open question in the waning days before Election Day. Mourdock took strides toward reassuring important women voters of his stance.
"I don't think God wants rape, because rape is evil," he said. "I want to assure every woman who hears this, who hears the story of this, that I abhor it, and I'm confident God abhors this."