WASHINGTON – Just as Mitt Romney and other Republicans had cut into the Democrats’ advantage with female voters, a tea party-backed Senate candidate’s awkward remark – that if rape leads to pregnancy it’s “something God intended” – has propelled the emotional issue of abortion back to the political forefront. It’s put GOP candidates in tight races, from the presidential candidate on down, on the defensive.
Divisive social issues are hardly what most GOP candidates want to be discussing in the few days remaining until elections largely hinging on jobs and the economy. Almost immediately after Richard Mourdock’s comment, Republican candidates distanced themselves from the Indiana state treasurer – though by varying degrees.
The Romney campaign said Wednesday that the presidential nominee disagreed with Mourdock but stood by his endorsement of the Senate candidate. There were no plans to drop a Romney testimonial ad for Mourdock that began airing in Indiana on Monday.
Mourdock’s comment in a Tuesday night debate came in answer to a question on when abortion should or should not be allowed. Said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul: “We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest but still support him.”
Reaction was quick from Republican senators and other candidates in close races rejecting Mourdock’s statement.
Mourdock’s debate comment recalled GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remark in August about rape and pregnancy. The Missouri congressman said women’s bodies have ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” Republicans, led by Romney, called for Akin to abandon the race, but he refused and is pressing ahead against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Romney and several Republicans have been moderating their positions in the campaign’s closing days, making their final pitch to the independents, undecideds and female voters whose votes could tip both the presidential election and majority control of the Senate. Recent national polls have shown Obama’s edge with female voters shrinking to single digits.
Mourdock’s comment rattled the races, including his own surprisingly competitive contest with Rep. Joe Donnelly. Mourdock had prevailed over six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in a bitter GOP primary in May.
Democrats, who have pushed the narrative of a Republican “war on women,” eagerly made Mourdock’s comment an issue for Romney and Senate GOP candidates. The Democrats are increasingly hopeful that they can hold their slim Senate advantage despite defending 23 seats to the GOP’s 10.
The Obama campaign said the president found Mourdock’s comments “outrageous and demeaning to women,” and it contended they were “a reminder that a Republican Congress working with a Republican President Mitt Romney would feel that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care.”
Said spokeswoman Jen Psaki of Romney: “It is perplexing that he wouldn’t demand to have that ad taken down.”
On Tuesday night, Mourdock was asked during the closing minutes of a debate with Donnelly whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.
“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 that God intended to happen,” Mourdock said.
At a news conference Wednesday, the state treasurer stood by his statement but suggested he had been misunderstood.
“I think that God can see beauty in every life,” Mourdock said. “Certainly, I did not intend to suggest that God wants rape, that God pushes people to rape, that God wants to support or condone evil in any way.”
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