Democrats Seize on Indiana Republican’s Rape Comment

Democrats are attacking Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock for saying that pregnancy caused by rape is something “God intended” and doesn’t justify an abortion.

The comment two nights ago is roiling a tight race less than two weeks before the election and threatens to spill over into the presidential contest. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has endorsed Mourdock and appeared in campaign ads for him. Romney quickly distanced himself from the remarks.

“Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock’s comments, and they do not reflect his views,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an e-mail. Asked whether Romney will withdraw his endorsement of Mourdock or insist that an ad that features a joint appearance of the two candidates be taken off the air, Saul said Romney’s campaign “still supports him.”

Mourdock apologized yesterday for his “less than fully articulate use of words,” while saying he stands by his position. At a press conference at the Indiana Republican Party headquarters in Indianapolis, he said repeatedly that he views life as “precious” and that he abhors violence, including rape.

‘Twist’ Comments

“For those who want to kind of twist the comments -- I believe that’s what’s wrong with Washington these days,” Mourdock said. “It’s win at any cost. Let’s make up issues when we can’t find any real ones.”

He said his campaign is “moving on” and that he believes Indiana voters are, too.

MoveOn.org, which supports President Barack Obama for re- election, plans to fly airplane banners over Republican campaign events today in Ohio and Virginia. A banner reading “Mitt: Support Women, Dump Mourdock” will fly over a Romney event in Cincinnati; another reading “Romney’s GOP: Wrong on Rape and Women” will fly over an event for vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan in Bristol, Virginia.

Romney, during a breakfast stop at a Cincinnati diner this morning before starting a bus tour of Ohio, refused to answer reporters’ questions about his support for Mourdock or comment on the endorsement ad running in the state.

Mourdock’s remark about God’s intentions came in response to a voter-submitted question toward the end of a debate with his opponents, Democratic U.S. Representative Joe Donnelly and Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning.

‘Gift From God’

“I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” said Mourdock, the state’s treasurer. “And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Mourdock choked up as he spoke about God at the debate, and again at his press conference yesterday as he said “life is incredibly precious.” He said he views saving a woman’s life as the only acceptable reason for abortion.

Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, said rape victims should have access to abortions. Mourdock said yesterday that he has a policy difference with some fellow Republicans, including Romney, on abortion.

Amid the fallout from the debate, Mourdock called New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte to cancel her planned trip to Indiana to campaign with him.

“I didn’t want her to be dragged into a situation,” he told reporters.

Ayotte Disagrees

Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone said in an e-mail that the senator “disagrees with Treasurer Mourdock’s comments, which do not represent her views.”

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint was in Indiana campaigning with Mourdock last night, according to DeMint’s Twitter account. “In Indiana to support conservative @richardmourdock over ‘Bailout Joe’ Donnelly,” DeMint wrote at 6:40 p.m. yesterday.

Obama, appearing on NBC’s “Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” said “rape is rape,” adding, “These various distinctions about rape don’t make too much sense to me.” He said the Mourdock remarks show why it shouldn’t be left to only men to make decisions on women’s issues.

Obama’s campaign aides highlighted Romney’s continued support for Mourdock’s candidacy.

“It continues to be perplexing to us that Mitt Romney would stand behind an ad that is for a candidate whose comments were so offensive and outrageous to women,” Jen Psaki, a campaign spokeswoman for Obama, told reporters traveling with the president today.

Romney Support

That message was reinforced by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge. The DCCC asked its 85,580 Twitter followers to “sign and retweet” a petition telling Romney to “denounce Richard Mourdock for his disgusting anti-woman views.”

American Bridge cut a video combining Romney’s endorsement of Mourdock and the Senate candidate’s statements of his own views, beginning with the “something God intended” remark. The Democratic National Committee made a similar video.

Following the debate, Mourdock clarified that his point was “God creates life.”

“God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does,” Mourdock said in a statement, adding, “for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.”

He echoed those statements at his press conference.

Donnelly issued a statement calling his opponent’s comments “shocking” and saying, “It is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape.”

‘Tepid’ Response

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, criticized Romney’s response as “tepid,” while Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called Mourdock’s remarks “callous, insulting and completely out of touch.” Both groups called on Romney to rescind his endorsement of Mourdock.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Patty Murray of Washington described Mourdock’s comments as “heinous” and called on Romney to demand that the ad in which Romney backs Mourdock be taken down.

Romney voiced his support for Mourdock in an ad that began airing Oct. 22 in Evansville, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.

Roe v. Wade

Obama’s re-election campaign has aired ads saying Romney would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide. Romney’s campaign, which wants to focus on the economy, is running an ad in some Virginia markets featuring a woman who says Romney “doesn’t oppose contraception at all” and “thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life.”

Mourdock made his remark two months after Missouri Senate Republican candidate Todd Akin said “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy. Akin, a U.S. House member seeking to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, later apologized while rejecting calls from fellow Republicans to withdraw from the race.

The Indiana contest is among the most closely watched U.S. Senate campaigns, along with those in Massachusetts, Missouri and Virginia. Republicans must hold all five of their competitive seats in the Nov. 6 election and pick up four more to win a majority in the Senate, which Democrats now control 53-47.

Keeping Distance

Republicans in other close Senate races distanced themselves from Mourdock’s comments. Nevada Senator Dean Heller “does not share these views,” Heller campaign spokeswoman Chandler Smith told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown said yesterday at a campaign event that he too disagreed with Mourdock, according to MassLive.com.

“I’m a pro-choice Republican and that’s not what I believe,” the website quoted Brown as saying.

An anti-tax Tea Party favorite, Mourdock defeated six-term Republican incumbent Richard Lugar by 20 percentage points in a May primary with an anti-Washington message.

Mourdock’s general election contest with Donnelly is rated as a tossup by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

The most recent Howey-DePauw poll, taken in Indiana Sept. 19-23, showed the race in a dead heat, with Donnelly leading Mourdock 40 percent to 38 percent among 800 likely voters, within the poll’s margin of error.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at khunter9@bloomberg.net; Julie Bykowicz in Washington at jbykowicz@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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