NEW ALBANY, Ind. — In the final, high-stakes debate before Election Day, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) touched on an issue that has bedeviled another Republican Senate candidate, saying that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
"I just, I struggled with it myself for a long time," Mourdock said as he teared up. "But I came to realize that life is that gift from God."
The remark was similar in tone, if not in substance, to the one made by Rep. Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate in Missouri, who suggested that pregnancy was rare in cases of "legitimate rape."
"I believe in an almighty God who makes those calls," Mourdock said in a post-debate news conference. "What was the famous expression from President [Barack] Obama four years ago? It's above my pay grade. There are some things in life that are above my pay grade — when God decides when life begins. I guess this is one of those times."
In their final joint appearance, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) and Mourdock sparred over partisanship, party and social issues in an otherwise sedate debate.
Donnelly seized on Mourdock's comment after the debate, and the Indiana Democratic Party posted a video of Mourdock's comments on YouTube almost immediately. During the debate, Donnelly reaffirmed his anti-abortion stance with exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the woman.
"Mr. Mourdock said, in regards to rape, it is something God intended to happen," Donnelly told reporters. "Rape is a horrible thing. It's an unspeakable thing. I can't believe that my God — or any God — would ever intend for that to happen to anyone."
In his post-debate remarks to reporters, Mourdock made it clear that he was referring to the life that was created, not to the rape, and that any suggestion he believes God "ordained or pre-ordained rape" is "sick and twisted."
Dennis Ryerson, former editor of the Indianapolis Star, moderated the debate before a live audience. Indiana University Southeast hosted the debate at its campus across the river from Louisville, Ky.
Polls show a tight race, and Roll Call rates it as a Tossup. Both campaigns boast that internal polls show them ahead by a couple of points. The last public poll, taken in mid-September, showed Donnelly with a 2-point lead.
That’s why each candidate focused on their appeal to independent voters during the hourlong debate.
“The question is who will be a strong, independent voice fighting for you,” Donnelly said. “My opponent, Mr. Mourdock, said the highlight of politics is to inflict his opinion on other people.”
Mourdock charged the Democrat had taken many of his comments out of context throughout the campaign.
“He says I like to inflict my opinions on others,” Mourdock said. "You know, I do? I love what I’m doing right now. I love to get people to think about these issues. It’s important stuff. This is the future of our country. And yet, he said let’s just keep going. Let’s keep the status quo, it will get better. I’m sorry, it won’t – not if we promote Mr. Donnelly.”