Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock became the latest Republican to stir up controversy – and potential trouble for the Romney campaign – when he said during a debate that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen."
Mourdock, a tea party-backed conservative Republican, unseated longtime Sen. Richard Lugar after a heated primary campaign. On Sunday, with his general election race tightening, he received Mitt Romney's official support. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is the only other candidate Romney has appeared on camera to endorse.
"With so much at stake, I hope you'll join me in supporting Richard Mourdock for U.S. Senate," Romney says in the new web video.
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Mourdock made his controversial remarks during a debate with with Rep. Joe Donnelly, a three-term congressman who is also anti-abortion, on Tuesday night. By early this morning, the Democratic National Committee had already edited the Romney endorsement video to include Mourdock's comments from the night before.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the candidate "disagrees with Richard Mourdock, and Mr.Mourdock's comments do not reflect Gov. Romney's views." The campaign, though, has no plans to ask him to take down the spot featuring Romney's endorsement.
The Republican presidential nominee supports abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is in danger. His running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, does not support an exception, and has so far remained silent, referring reporters to the campaign's official statements.
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This morning, Mourdock tried to put his comment into a less stark context.
"God creates life, and that was my point," he said in a press release. "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."
At a news conference later he said that his words were "mistook and twisted," and that the uproar is symptomatic of "what's wrong with Washington."
"I believe God controls the universe," Mourdoch told reporters, who asked if he thought pregnancies resulting from rape were God's plan. "I don't believe biology works in an uncontrolled fashion."
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a popular Republican, has cancelled plans to campaign with Mourdock, who told reporters he had suggested to Ayotte that she put off the trip. Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, up for re-election now in the Bay State, has also spoken out against Mourdock.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Mourdock's words "outrageous and demeaning to women," then sought to tie them to Romney, whom she said would work with a Republican Congress to promote the idea "that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care."
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz used the same language to condemn Mourdock's statement, calling it "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," Wasserman Schultz said.
The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List group backed Murdoch's characterization and has affirmed its support for his candidacy in an email that accuses his opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly, of twisting the Republican's words.
"Richard Mourdock said that life is always a gift from God, and we couldn't agree more," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser wrote this morning. "To report his statement as an endorsement of rape is either willfully ignorant or malicious."
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee also joined the chorus defending Mourdock.
"Richard and I, along with millions of Americans – including even [Democratic opponent] Joe Donnelly – believe that life is a gift from God," Cornyn said. "To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous. In fact, rather than condemning him for his position, as some in his party have when it's come to Republicans, I commend Congressman Donnelly for his support of life."
Abortion became a more prominent issue in the presidential campaign when Romney told the Des Moines Register, "There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda." The campaign then began airing a TV ad in which a woman touts Romney's support for more moderate legislation.
But the Obama campaign hit right back, releasing a spot of its own that features footage from a 2007 GOP presidential primary debate in which Romney said he would be "delighted" to sign a bill banning all abortions in the U.S.
Mourdock is the third Republican Senate candidate, all of them men, who has made waves with his views on rape and abortion. In August, Rep. Todd Akin said during an interview in August that "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down" and block pregnancy in cases of what he called "legitimate rape." Akin apologized for the comment, but refused to leave the race despite pressure from his own party.
Later in the month, Pennsylvania's Tom Smith likened his own daughter's out-of-wedlock pregnancy to conception through rape.
Smith quickly backed off the statement when pressed by reporters about whether he meant to conflate the two.
"No, no, no," Smith said, before seeming to qualify his defense: "Put yourself in a father's position," he said. "Yes, I mean it is similar."
"It's life," Smith explained, eventually, "and I'm pro-life. It's that simple."
Both Akin and Smith are behind in their races to unseat incumbent Democrats Sen. Claire McCaskill and Sen. Bob Casey, respectively. Mourdock had a five-point lead on Donnelly in the most recent Rasmussen poll. An internal survey commissioned by Donnelly showed the Democrat leading Mourdock, 40-38.
ABC News' Emily Friedman and Shushannah Walshe contributed to this report