Faced with a question about fellow Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin's inflammatory remarks about "legitimate rape," Pennsylvania's Tom Smith today likened his own daughter's out-of-wedlock pregnancy to conception through rape.
Smith quickly backed off the statement, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News reported, 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 unclear how old his daughter was at the time.
Asked again, the candidate backed off a second time, denying that he had drawn any correlation between rape and an unplanned pregnancy achieved by a consenting man and woman.
"No, I didn't not say that," Smith, 64, told the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon crowd. "I said I went through a situation. It's very, very difficult. But do I condone rape? Absolutely not."
He then pivoted to his anti-abortion position, saying, "A life is a life and it needs protecting. Who's going to protect it? We have to. I believe life begins at conception. I'm not going to argue about the method of that conception.
"It's life. And I'm pro-life. It's that simple."
Contacted by ABC News, campaign officials were adamant that Smith was only addressing the difficult decision that his family faced, and not the way his daughter became pregnant. One adviser pointed to audio records of today's exchange, which can be found at PoliticsPA.com.
In a statement, communications director Megan Piwowar wrote: "Tom Smith is committed to protecting the sanctity of life and believes it begins at conception. While his answers to some of the questions he faced at the Pennsylvania Press club may have been less than artful, at no time did he draw the comparison that some have inferred. When questioned if he was drawing that comparison, Tom's answer was clear, 'no, no, no.' Tom was speaking to the difficult decision faced by his family, not the nature of his daughters (sic) conception."
This was not the first time Smith was asked to comment on the Akin controversy.
On Aug. 20, Piwowar told The Morning Call: "Tom Smith disagrees strongly with Congressman Akin's comment … in no way does Congressman Akin's comments reflect the pro-life community's thoughts and views on women who are victims of rape."
Smith, a retired congressman from the state's 128th district, has trailed popular Sen. Bob Casey, an anti-abortion Democrat, by nearly 20 points in recent polls.