FORT WAYNE – No matter how – or if – Richard Mourdock's remark about rape, pregnancy and God affects the outcome his U.S. Senate bid, the fallout has engulfed his campaign less than two weeks before the election.
"If nothing else, it takes him off message for a couple of days at a time that he was especially trying to moderate his position, trying to put the primary behind him," IPFW political scientist Michael Wolf said.
Toward the end of a Senate candidates debate Tuesday night in New Albany, Republican Mourdock said that pregnancy resulting from rape "is something that God intended to happen." Response from around the country since then has been swift and mostly harsh, with Democrats and many Republicans condemning Mourdock.
Former Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday on CBS's "This Morning" that Mourdock's statement "was kinda crazy." Wednesday night on Comedy Central's satirical "The Colbert Report," host Stephen Colbert said Mourdock's comment "upset many Hoosiers, and also possibly God."
With a new Associated Press-GfK poll showing Mitt Romney has erased President Obama's 16-point advantage among women, the president also tried to keep the GOP abortion controversy alive. In Tampa, Fla., the risers behind him stacked with female supporters, Obama made a veiled reference to Mourdock's comment that pregnancies resulting from rape are "something God intended."
"As we saw again this week, I don't think any politician in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making health care decisions for women," Obama said. "Women can make those decisions themselves."
It was the president's first mention of Mourdock's comment at a rally, but Obama said Wednesday night on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" that "rape is rape." His campaign also has been intensifying its criticism of Romney for refusing to pull his support for Mourdock, even though the Republican presidential nominee said he disagrees with Mourdock's comment.
Ever since state Treasurer Mourdock defeated six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in the May Republican primary election, he has been locked in a tight, expensive race with Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd. Mourdock has called Donnelly a rubber stamp for President Obama's policies, while Donnelly has labeled Mourdock a right-wing extremist who is unwilling to compromise on issues.
Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said in an email that she believes his conservative base of Hoosier voters "rallies around Mourdock" in the uproar over his answer to a debate question about abortion rights, which he opposes.
But Duffy also said the remark "is yet another illustration of some pretty weak political skills. The question is predictable, yet Mourdock had not thought through an answer."
Wolf noted that the rest of Tuesday's debate has gone largely unreported because of Mourdock's rape remark.
"If he hadn't continued with that line of thought, if he had shut it down a line earlier, the debate might be playing very differently today," Wolf said.
Duffy said Mourdock's remark is not as damaging as the statement by Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for senator in Missouri, that "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
"It is far more nuanced, from the party's response to Donnelly's own record," she said about Mourdock's rape remark. Donnelly opposes abortion rights.
But Wolf pointed out that Akin made his remark in late August. In Mourdock's case, Republicans "don't have the luxury of time that they had with Akin," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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