Richard Mourdock and the damage done

October 24, 2012

Democrats are feverishly trying to turn Richard Mourdock into the next Todd Akin after Mourdock, like Akin, made some controversial comments Tuesday about rape and pregnancy.

At this point, the situation is certainly not helpful for Mourdock and will pretty clearly jeopardize his chance at victory in an already-tight Indiana Senate race. But it's not yet clear whether it will hurt Mourdock as much as it hurt Akin -- or whether the matter will be as big a liability for the national GOP as Akin was.

VIDEO: Mourdock makes controversial comments during a debate Tuesday night.

Here's a breakdown of where we stand and where we go from here.

First, the full quote from Mourdock:

“You know, this is that issue that every candidate for federal or even state office faces. And I have to certainly stand for life. I know that there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view. But I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have to have on abortion is in that case -- of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize 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.”

Democrats immediately charged Mourdock with saying that God intends for rapes to happen, while Republicans said that such a reading of his remarks is ridiculous. They said Mourdock was only trying to make a point that all life is part of God's plan -- a view shared by many Americans.

"God creates life, and that was my point,” Mourdock said in a statement after the debate.

At this point, the debate is over whether Mourdock believes that God intends for rape to occur. But more broadly, it's about whether the comments turn off independents and moderates who have already been slow to warm to Mourdock after his primary upset of longtime Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

And a lot of it depends on how his fellow Republicans treat the matter.

So far, it's a mixed bag. Mitt Romney disavowed Mourdock's comments Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning, Rep. Mike Pence (R), the favorite to become Indiana's next governor, called on Mourdock to apologize. But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which disowned Akin after his comments, is standing by its man in this case.

The timing is particularly unhelpful for Romney, who was featured in an ad for Mourdock that launched just this week.

“Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock’s comments, and they do not reflect his views,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.

While Romney's campaign quickly disavowed Mourdock's comment, he could still be pressed on whether he rescinds his endorsement of Mourdock and whether his party should stand by its candidate.

VIDEO: Richard Mourdock: 'I don't think God wants rape'

Romney has already been attacked for his position on abortion, with Democrats running ads noting that in the past Romney has said he would sign a ban on all abortions. Romney's campaign has clarified that he believes in exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

The Obama campaign is keeping up the pressure.

"This is 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," Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday morning.

Pence, meanwhile, also appeared to want to separate his political brand from Mourdock's.

"I strongly disagree with the statement made by Richard Mourdock during last night's Senate debate. I urge him to apologize,” Pence said, according to the Evansville Courier and Press.

As for national Republicans, though, they appear to be sticking by their man. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) issued a statement Wednesday morning in support of Mourdock and attempting to turn the focus to his opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), and his position on abortion.

“Richard and I, along with millions of Americans – including even Joe Donnelly – believe that life is a gift from God," Cornyn said. "To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous."

Donnelly also opposes abortion rights and, the GOP notes, was a co-sponsor of a bill that would have denied abortion funding for victims of rape and incest and created a separate category called "forcible rape." The bill was soon amended to eliminate the "forcible rape" designation, which Donnelly said he didn't know was included in the original bill. Republicans believe they can level the playing field -- at least somewhat -- by pointing to Donnelly's involvement in that controversial bill.

The other major player in this is Lugar, who still hasn't warmed to Mourdock himself after the primary.

Lugar's office said Wednesday morning that he's traveling in Asia, but a former top Lugar aide told The Fix that Mourdock has a problem.

"Mourdock has been losing support since the primary, even among those Republicans who voted for him because they thought the senator was too old," said former Lugar aide Mark Helmke, who is now a professor at Trine University in Angola, Ind. "(The rape comment is) all the talk of this small, conservative university town in far northeast Indiana."

Lugar's lack of support has been a particular sore spot for Mourdock since the primary. Polls suggest more moderate Lugar supporters from the primary haven't moved en masse to Mourdock's side, which has turned this red state into a potential loss for Republicans.

Clearly, Mourdock has some problems with the middle, and staking out such conservative territory on abortion could hurt in his effort to woo those voters.

Republicans acknowledge Mourdock said what he said in an inartful way, but they also note that he was quick to issue a forceful statement clarifying his intent.

The question from here is whether Republicans begin to disown Mourdock as they look out for their own political futures. If they do, it's going to be harder and harder for Mourdock to make the case that he simply made a poor choice of words and is the victim of a Democratic smear campaign.

Time will tell when it comes to whether comments about rape and pregnancy cost Republicans yet another Senate seat -- and, more broadly, whether they create a major headache for Republicans in the presidential and other downballot races.

Read more from PostPolitics

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Gloria Allred's October surprise?

Is this America's worst candidate?

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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