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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mourdock\'s Comments Pose Dilemma for Romney

The charged anti-abortion comments made this week by Richard Mourdock, a Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, pose something of a dilemma for Mitt Romney. If Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, does not distance himself enough from Mr. Mourdock, he could find it harder to narrow his deficit with women - but if he distances himself too much, he could turn off some of the evangelical voters whose turnout will be crucial is he is to carry swing states like Iowa and Ohio.

Mr. Mourdock's abortion comments came just as there were signs in some polls that Mr. Romney was beginning to narrow his gap with women, who have been an important source of support for President Obama. But if he denounces Mr. Mourdock too strongly Mr. Romney could alienate some of the evangelical voters who have viewed him warily in the past.

White evangelical Christian voters made up 26 percent of the vote in 2008, but they were an even bigger slice of the electorate in some cr ucial swing states: Exit polls suggested that evangelicals made up 30 percent of the vote in Ohio, 31 percent in Iowa, 44 percent in North Carolina and 28 percent in Virginia. And those states voted for President Obama in 2008.

Mr. Romney won the support of many evangelical leaders this year after a long primary season in which many had preferred other Republican candidates, including former Senator Rick Santorum. Now, motivated by an antipathy to President Obama and the desire to have a Republican president select the next Supreme Court justices, many evangelical leaders have rallied to Mr. Romney. The question is how motivated the rank and file will be, and what kinds of numbers they will turn out in.

In recent years the evangelical movement has evolved as the old guard, who helped lead conservative Christians into the Republican Party, has given way to a new generation of leaders who have often taken a less openly partisan approach.

This is where Mr. Mou rdock's comments may prove complicated for Mr. Romney.

A growing number of Republicans - including Representative Mike Pence, a Republican favored to be elected Indiana's governor, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the party's 2008 presidential nominee - have called on Mr. Mourdock to apologize for the comments he made. In a debate Monday, Mr. Mourdock, the Indiana state treasurer, explained why he does not believe abortion should be legal even in the case of rape. Mr. Mourdock said that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

The comments put Mr. Romney in a complicated position. The Mourdock campaign had released an advertisement on Monday that featured Mr. Romney endorsing Mr. Mourdock. While the Romney campaign said that Mr. Romney disagreed with Mr. Mourdock, the campaign did not ask him to remove the television ad. Taking a harder line could turn off already wary evangelical voters.

And there is another complication for Mr. Romney: he would no doubt like to see Republicans control the Senate, especially if he wins the presidency and needs their support to enact legislation. Taking a harder line against Mr. Mourdock could complicate that goal.