Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock on Wednesday insisted his comments about rape and pregnancy were being willfully misinterpreted for political gain even as President Obama's campaign sought to ensnare Mitt Romney in the growing controversy.
Mourdock's explanation will likely do little to quiet the national firestorm created by his initial comments at a debate Tuesday night; "I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen," he said. (The full video of Mourdock's comments is at the bottom of this post.)
In fact, even before Mourdock sought to clarify his comments, President Obama's campaign was working to hang those remarks around Romney's ankles.
“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. To further drive that point home, the Democratic National Committee released a web video splicing Mourdock's rape comments with Romney's full-throated endorsement of him.
Romney, sensing danger to his growing momentum and to his attempts to court suburban women, sought to quickly distance himself from Mourdock's comments.
"Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement Tuesday night. But on Wednesday, Saul said that Romney would not rescind his endorsement of Mourdock or ask that the recent endorsement ad he cut for the Indiana Republican be removed from the airwaves.
But while Romney distanced himself from Mourdock, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) gave the party's nominee a vote of support.
“Richard and I, along with millions of Americans – including even (Mourdock's Democratic opponent) 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."
While about half of Americans oppose abortion, many who do also support exceptions in the case of rape and incest.
Mourdock, who beat longtime Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in a primary earlier this year, is locked in a tight race with Donnelly despite Indiana's Republican lean. Republicans note that Donnelly also opposes abortion rights and was a co-sponsor in the House 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.
For the national GOP, it's a potential case of deja vu. The party's chances in the Missouri Senate race plummeted when newly minted nominee Rep. Todd Akin remarked in August that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy.
Akin has since apologized for the comment but is struggling both in the polls and in fundraising. GOP leaders tried unsuccessfully to push him out of the race so they could get a different candidate.
If the GOP loses the Senate races in Indiana and Missouri, its path back to a Senate majority becomes very difficult.
Romney -- and Republicans more broadly -- have worked hard in recent weeks to push back against Democratic allegations that they are waging a "war on women" because of the policies they pursue. The Mourdock controversy is likely to re-ignite that debate just 13 days before the election.
VIDEO: Mourdock makes controversial comments during a debate Tuesday night.