U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock apologized Wednesday to anyone who misinterpreted his statement during a Tuesday night debate that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, it is something that God intended to happen," but the move did little to quell the drumbeat of Democrats quickly trying to tie the comments to Mitt Romney, who recently taped an ad endorsing Mr. Mourdock.
Though Republicans such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky rushed to reaffirm their support for the Republican, the incident could potentially shake up the race in Indiana, where Mr. Mourdock is deadlocked with Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly. Democrats have been quick to pounce on any Republican missteps on abortion-related issues in the wake of Missouri Rep. W. Todd Akin's remarks earlier this year that in cases of "legitimate rape," the female body has ways to fight off a potential pregnancy.
Mr. Mourdock, though, sought to head off any lasting damage at a Wednesday news conference.
"I absolutely abhor violence," Mr. Mourdock said. "I abhor any kind of sexual violence. I abhor rape. And I'm absolutely confident, as I stand here, that the God that I worship abhors violence, abhors sexual violence and abhors rape."
Mr. Mourdock, a tea party-backed candidate who felled longtime Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar in the state's GOP primary earlier this year, made the original comments during a Tuesday debate with Mr. Donnelly and Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning.
"I am a much more humble person this morning because so many people mistook, twisted, came to misunderstand points that I was trying to make," Mr. Mourdock said. "And if, because of the lack of clarity in my words, they came away with an impression other than those that I stated moments ago, that life is precious and I abhor violence and that God abhors violence and rape — if they came away with any impression other than that, I truly regret it. I apologize that they came away, and I have certainly been humbled by the fact that so many people think that that somehow was an interpretation."
Mr. Donnelly, a pro-life Democrat who has worked to portray himself as a moderate throughout the campaign, called Mr. Mourdock's remarks "shocking," adding that "it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape."
The timing of Mr. Mourdock's comments was somewhat awkward, as Mr. Romney had just cut a candidate-to-camera ad supporting him in the race. The Romney campaign has not asked Mr. Mourdock to pull the ad. A Romney spokeswoman did say that Mr. Romney, who has said he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger, disagrees with Mr. Mourdock and that his comments do not reflect Mr. Romney's views.
But the Romney campaign still supports the Mourdock bid for Senate.
A handful of other Republicans across the country also distanced themselves from Mr. Mourdock on Wednesday. Rep. Mike Pence, a pro-life Republican running for governor of Indiana, said he disagreed with the comments, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, canceled a scheduled Wednesday trip to campaign with Mr. Mourdock, for example.
Democrats went on the offensive immediately after the Tuesday night comment.
"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," Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for President Obama's campaign, told reporters. "This is an issue where Mitt Romney is starring in an ad for this senator, and it is perplexing that he wouldn't demand to have that ad taken down."
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that any action from Mr. Romney short of pulling the ad and withdrawing his endorsement was not sufficient.
"This is a ticket that is extreme — how could Mitt Romney not condemn what Richard Mourdock said?" she asked on a conference call Wednesday. "I mean, all he's done is release a statement through a spokeswoman?"
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, meanwhile, which severed ties with Mr. Akin after his "legitimate rape" comments, said it was standing by Mr. Mourdock, as did Mr. McConnell.
"It's incredibly irresponsible for anyone to take what Richard said about his views on life to demean his opposition to the detestable act of rape," Mr. McConnell said. "We're at the end of an election season here, and I understand each side is looking to make hay out of every comment, but sharing the view of millions of Americans that life begins at conception is Richard's deeply held personal belief that shouldn't be misconstrued by partisans to imply something it does not."
Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of several newsletters on Indiana politics and government, wouldn't venture a guess as to how the final two weeks of the campaign would play out as a result of the remark, but did offer a possible silver lining for Mr. Mourdock.
"Mourdock's got to be happy that early voting has started awhile back in Indiana," he said.
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