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Rape Comment Hangs Over Senate Race In Indiana

Republican Richard Mourdock, candidate for Indiana's U.S. Senate seat (right) meets Mike Nestor and LoRita Stofleth at Blueberry Hill Pancake House Saturday in Indianapolis

Republicans have been hoping to win gain control of the U.S. Senate. The path toward victory had Indiana solidly on their side.

That was until Indiana's treasurer Richard Mourdock beat longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary.

Then, during a debate on Oct. 23, Mourdock and his Democratic opponent, Congressman Joe Donnelly, were asked about abortion and contraception. Like Donnelly, Mourdock said he was against abortion.

"The only exception I have ... to have on abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from God," Mourdock said. "And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

It's the second time in recent months that a Republican Senate candidate has jeopardized a victory with comments about rape and abortion. Congressman Todd Akin is behind in the polls in Missouri after a similar remark in August.

Mourdock's comments have put him in the same bind; his statement sent a shudder through the Republican Party.

Mitt Romney had only just waded into the campaign, cutting a commercial for Mourdock. His campaign was quick to say that the nominee disagreed with Mourdock.

Mourdock says his comments were misinterpreted for political gain.

"When I walked off the stage, I expected, walking to my green room, to get high fives because I had no idea that the statement that I made would possibly go a direction that it went," he told reporters a few days later in Greenfield. "I didn't think that anyone could possibly begin to take those words and construe a meaning from them that was never intended and certainly never meant."

Mourdock remains beloved by conservatives and members of the Tea Party, especially after defeating Lugar. Carol Stover, owner of Carol's Cornerstone Cafe, opened her restaurant to the Mourdock campaign.

"I think it's been blown out of proportion, really. I think he made a mistake, and he's probably sorry for it. Maybe. I don't know," she says. "But it doesn't bother me. It doesn't stand in my way. ... Everybody has their opinion."

Stover says she already voted for Mourdock, and his debate statement wouldn't have made a difference if she hadn't.

Many other women apparently aren't as forgiving. A new poll shows Donnelly with a lead, largely thanks to women. The Democrat is trying to pick up those women and moderates turned off by Mourdock.

"I think Indiana's tradition has always been people like Richard Lugar, people like Evan Bayh, who have always tried to make sure that good decisions and sound decisions are made," Donnelly says.

In his stump speech, Donnelly rarely -- if ever -- mentions the Democratic Party or President Obama. That's probably shrewd politics in a state that will likely vote solidly for Romney.

"That's where my focus is. Those other races will take care of themselves, but I'm doing everything I can on the Senate level," he says.

Other people are focusing on the Indiana race as well. There's been $24 million in outside money pouring into the contest -- $8 million of which came in the last week.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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