A Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Indiana has rocked the efforts of his party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, to win over female voters after the candidate suggested that pregnancy resulting from rape is "something that God intended."
Richard Mourdock's remarks, made during a debate Tuesday, ignited a national fury on the divisive issue of abortion just as the Romney campaign is trying to close a gender gap with President Obama, who enjoys a double-digit advantage among women.
Democrats, who watched nervously as Romney over the past month drew even with Obama in the polls nationally and in battleground states, wasted no time seizing on Mourdock's comment to relaunch their claims that Republicans -- including Romney -- are extremists waging a "war on women."
Mourdock is the second Republican Senate candidate to roil the presidential campaign with a comment about rape and abortion. Todd Akin, a Senate candidate in Missouri, claimed victims of "legitimate rape" couldn't get pregnant, and therefore didn't need access to abortion.
While Romney immediately called on Akin to get out of the race, he is standing by Mourdock in his close race against Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly. Romney's campaign on Tuesday denounced Mourdock's statement but did not withdraw Romney's endorsement or ask Mourdock to take down a television ad featuring Romney.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Romney's decision to continue his support for Mourdock proves the presidential nominee "believes those views are fine."
Wasserman Schultz, along with Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said in a press conference that Mourdock's comments are evidence of Republicans' wider anti-women agenda, which includes making abortion illegal, reversing pay equity legislation and taking away the free contraceptives provided under Obama's health care reforms.
"It clearly shows Mitt Romney is not the moderate he is now trying to portray himself to be in these very last few days before the election," Richards said.
Mourdock's comments complicate things for the Republican Party on two fronts.
It could damage Romney's efforts to win over female voters. Even though Obama has a wide lead among women in many polls, a few surveys show Romney gaining on him.
A Pew Research Center poll this month showed Romney tied with Obama among female voters, a dramatic improvement for the Republican, who in September was trailing Obama by 18 percentage points among those same voters.
Mourdock's remarks also may damage the Republican Party's efforts to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Republicans need to pick up four seats, but they are falling behind in several key races.
Mourdock has drawn with Donnelly in recent polls, but the rape comment is likely to hurt him. Akin, in Missouri, ignored calls from his party to step down and remained in the Senate race. But he never regained the momentum he had before mentioning "legitimate rape."
Mourdock on Wednesday accused Democratic opponents of twisting his original comments and using them "for partisan political gains" by making it appear that he believes God approves of rape.