Mitt Romney has done his best to make this election squarely about the economy, but several of the Republican men running further down the ticket have continued to make that an increasingly difficult proposition for him.
The latest GOP candidate to cause headaches for Romney is Richard Mourdock, a Senate hopeful in Indiana, who suggested during a debate last night that pregnancies that result from rape are "something that God intended to happen." Democrats wasted little time seizing on the remarks and before the night was over the Romney camp had released a somewhat murky statement saying that he disagrees with the Indiana Republican. By morning, Democrats were up with a rapid response Web video tying Romney to Mourdock and his controversial remarks.
Here was Mourdock's full quote that came while explaining his stance that abortions should be illegal in all instances except those where the mother's life is in danger:
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
That comment prompted a cascade of statements and responses both in the Indiana race and nationally. First up was Mourdock's main opponent, Joe Donnelly, a Democratic congressman who is strongly anti-abortion himself (and, we should note, a co-sponsor of the 2011 bill that, in initial drafts, created a distinction between "rape" and "forcible rape"):
"I think rape is a heinous and violent crime in every instance. The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in, does not intend for rape to happen—ever. What Mr. Mourdock said is shocking, and it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape."
That prompted a clarification from Mourdock stressing that he did not believe that rape was something that God wanted to occur:
"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."
Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also got in on the action, pointing to a recent advertisement that Romney cut on Mourdock's behalf:
“Richard Mourdock’s rape comments are outrageous and demeaning to women. Unfortunately, they’ve become part and parcel of the modern Republican Party’s platform toward women’s health, as Congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan have worked to outlaw all abortions and even narrow the definition of rape. As Mourdock’s most prominent booster and the star of Mourdock’s current campaign ads, Mitt Romney should immediately denounce these comments and request that the ad featuring him speaking directly to camera on Mourdock’s behalf be taken off the air.”
And, finally, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul weighed in with a short statement of her own: "Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock’s comments, and they do not reflect his views." She did not, however, respond when asked whether Romney still supports Mourdock.
It's been only about 12 hours since last night's Indiana debate, so it's obviously still unclear whether Mourdock's comments will do the type of damage that Missouri GOP Senate hopeful Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" remarks did—but perhaps they shouldn't, as Slate's Dave Weigel explained last night:
"Akin's comment posited that the female body had hormonal powers that 'shut down' the conception process during stressful sex. That's junk science. Mourdock's comment is a perfectly coherent pro-life statement. If you think life starts at conception, well, then, it starts at conception."
Here's the clip from last night's debate:
And the ad Romney cut for Mourdock:
And proving how fast these things move, the rapid response Web video from Democrats: