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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Republicans Struggle to Contain Mourdock Comments

Republicans struggled Wednesday to prevent their Indiana Senate candidate's comments on rape and abortion from brewing into an Akin-like firestorm, strongly pushing back on any suggestion that Richard Mourdock,  the state treasurer, had condoned rape in a political debate Tuesday night.

In a statement released Wednesday morning, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, claimed that Mr. Mourdock's position is no different from that of Representative Joe Donnelly, the Democratic candidate in the unexpectedly tight contest.

“Richard and I, along with millions of Americans - including even Joe Donnelly - believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous,” Senator Cornyn said.  “In fact, rather than condemning him for his position, as some in his party have when it's come to Republicans, I commend Congressma n Donnelly for his support of life.”

Mr. Mourdock's words, however, appear to have a life of their own. They've already spread across the Atlantic Ocean with French, German and Spanish newspapers jumping on the story. Democrats are not likely to let up, with less than two weeks to go before election day, as they press a narrative that depicts the Republican Party as out of step with women.

Mr. Mourdock's statements came during a debate Tuesday with Mr. Donnelly and Andrew Horning, the Libertarian candidate. Mr. Mourdock tried to distinguish himself from two opponents who also oppose abortion, explaining why he does not accept an exception for pregnancies conceived by rape.

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

The comment did not yield much of a response from Mr. Donnelly, but other Democrats pounced soon after the debate. And Mr. Mourdock released a statement to clarify, “God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.”

Republicans noted that Mr. Donnelly, an Irish Catholic whose base is in South Bend, the home to Notre Dame University, co-sponsored controversial legislation in 2011 that would have changed the federal ban on abortion funding to exempt conceptions from “forcible” rape, not just rape. The Mourdock campaign said this backing showed Mr. Donnelly believe pregnancies from statutory rape or incest should have to be carried to term.

Mr. Donnelly had said, earlier this year, he was not aware that Republican authors of the bill had added the “forcible” language and was glad when an outcry forced them to remove it.

But in politic s, explaining a position is a bad sign, especially 13 days before election day. And the rape-and-abortion theme is threatening to push the close Indiana Senate race into the realm of the Missouri Senate race, another campaign that was supposed to favor Republicans before Republican Todd Akin‘s defense of his opposition to abortion in cases of rape through the contest out of kilter. The incumbent Democrat in Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill, is now expected to hold her seat.

If the Mourdock comments similarly explode, it could also singe Mitt Romney, who cut a television advertisement, released on Monday, endorsing Mr. Mourdock. Already, Democrats are asking whether the Republican presidential nominee - who supports abortion in the case of rape, incest and when the health of the mother is at risk - will renounce that endorsement. On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee released an ad montaging footage of the debate with Mr. Romney's endorsement.

Mr. Co rnyn tried Wednesday to change the subject.

“This election is about big ideas and the reality that our country is going in the wrong direction,” he said in a statement. “If you support Obamacare, government bailouts, reckless spending and higher taxes than you should vote for Joe Donnelly. But if you believe, as I do, that our government is too big, our taxes are too high, and we are passing an irresponsible debt onto future generations, than Richard Mourdock is your candidate to help get our country back on track.”

Mr. Mourdock beat Senator Richard Lugar, a six-term moderate, in the Republican primary in May.