The Indiana Senate race is in the national spotlight after Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s controversial comments concerning rape and pregnancy at Tuesday’s debate have led to a swift and far-reaching backlash.
His remarks have made state and national headlines, drawing frequent comparisons to Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who, in August, said that a female body is able to prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”
During a discussion of abortion at Tuesday’s Senate debate, Murdock said, “life is that gift from God. And, I think, even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
The fallout has led to speculation about how the remarks might affect Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s quest for the White House. Romney, who continues to struggle among female voters, released an ad endorsing Mourdock on Monday.
Monroe County Republican Party Chairman Steve Hogan said Wednesday he thought that Mourdock’s statements were getting blown out of proportion and taken out of context.
“It’s a terribly personal thing,” Hogan said, noting that he knew a woman who was raped and kept the child. “Her thought was, ‘it’s half mine.’”
Other Republicans, such as gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence, quickly distanced themselves from Mourdock’s comments.
“I strongly disagree with the statement made by Richard Mourdock during last night’s Senate debate,” Pence said. “I urge him to apologize.”
Pence is no stranger to controversial remarks, apologizing in June after comparing the Supreme Court’s health care decision to 9/11. Mourdock, so far, has not been as apologetic, saying at a news conference Wednesday that he spoke from the heart.
He did say he regretted that his statements were misinterpreted.
“I spoke from my heart. And speaking from my heart, speaking from the deepest level of my faith, I would not apologize. I would be less than faithful if I said anything other than life is precious; I believe it’s a gift from God,” Mourdock said.
“If it was because of a lack of clarity in my words, I truly regret it,’’ he said. “The comments were made. The comments have been misunderstood.’’
Mourdock, who defeated veteran U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in May and is running a close race against Democrat Rep. Joe Donnelly, has said he opposes all cases of abortion unless a mother’s life is in danger.
Marjorie Hershey, a political science professor and adjunct professor of women’s studies at Indiana University, said Mourdock’s statements could be costly for the Republican Party. If Mourdock were to lose, the GOP would forfeit a Republican-held seat, Hershey said, and would then need two additional seats to gain a majority in the Senate.
“It will have broader implications, too, because now Republican groups will have to redirect money to Indiana from other close Senate races, which could make those other races more winnable for Democrats,” Hershey said.
Democrats, including a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, have leapt at the opportunity to use Mourdock’s words against the Republican Party and Romney, whose ad supporting Mourdock was still airing in Indiana on Wednesday.
Democratic Indiana lieutenant governor candidate Vi Simpson, currently a state senator who represents the district that includes Bloomington, criticized Mourdock.
“As a woman and a mother, I was appalled by Richard Mourdock’s insensitive and incendiary comments tonight,” Simpson said in a statement.
Speaking in Indianapolis Wednesday, Donnelly said, “It is hurtful to women, to survivors of rape and to their families. His words were extreme, but more important, hurtful to victims of sexual abuse.”
Some have come to Mourdock’s defense, including his Libertarian opponent for Senate, Andrew Horning. On his Facebook page, Horning urged voters not to base their decision on a gaffe, adding that, while his politics about abortion may differ from Mourdock’s, his personal feelings are similar.
“I do agree with Mr. Mourdock that, if you have any notion of a deity at all, then God’s mercy could be seen in the birth of a child,” Horning said. “No matter what else may have happened up to that point.”
But gaffes can make a difference, Hershey said, especially when they resemble notions that voters may already have about a candidate.
“This comment about rape fits into the perception that Mourdock is an extremist, a charge that Rep. Donnelly has been making for months,” she said.
Originally published in the Bloomington Herald-Times.