New York Times reporters Jonathan Weisman and Michael Cooper both suggested Mitt Romney would be hurt by comments made by Indiana's Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock at a debate Tuesday night. While explaining why he doesn't support abortion in the case of rape, Mourdock said: "I've struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
Democrats and their media allies pounced, devoting more airtime to Mourdock's comments than to damning emails showing the White House was informed within hours that the Benghazi attacks were terrorism, not a spontaneous reaction to a YouTube video. The paper's get-Romney attack line was clear from the headline in Thursday's edition: "Rape Remark Jolts a Senate Race, and the Presidential One, Too."
A Nexis search indicates this is the seventh Times story that has allowed Mourdock's Democratic opponents to paint him as "extreme" or "extremist." The photo caption accompanying Mourdock's picture continued that Dem-friendly pattern: "Richard Mourdock’s opposition to abortion in cases of rape has given Democrats an opening to paint Republicans as extremist."
The incendiary topic of rape and abortion re-entered the 2012 campaign Wednesday and threatened to singe Mitt Romney after an Indiana Senate candidate’s comments that pregnancies conceived by rape should not be aborted because “God intended” conception to happen.
Mr. Romney has been reaching out to female voters and has spent weeks trying to distance himself from the most uncompromising positions of many Republicans on abortion. But the comments by Richard E. Mourdock, the Indiana state treasurer and Tea Party-backed candidate, gave President Obama’s campaign a new opening to tie Mr. Romney to his right flank on social issues.
The comments put Mr. Romney in a difficult position. The Mourdock campaign had released an advertisement on Monday that featured Mr. Romney looking directly into the camera and endorsing Mr. Mourdock, a boon to the Republican in a race that has remained close in part because Senator Richard G. Lugar, whom he defeated in the Republican primary, has refused to campaign for him. Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, said Mr. Romney disagrees with Mr. Mourdock, but the campaign did not ask him to remove the ad.
The Obama campaign sought to exploit the opening, as did virtually every Democratic campaign for Senate, pressing a message that the Republican Party is out of step with female voters.
President Obama “felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women,” Jen Psaki, the president’s campaign spokeswoman, told reporters on Wednesday morning. Ms. Psaki called it “perplexing” that Mr. Romney had not demanded that his ad be taken off television. He supports allowing abortion in the case of rape, incest and when the health of the mother is at risk.
Republicans in Washington hoped that the anti-abortion tilt of Indiana would insulate Mr. Mourdock from much political damage. But the controversy fed into the argument that Mr. Donnelly and other Democrats have been pressing ever since Mr. Mourdock’s stunning victory over Mr. Lugar. The nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report moved the Indiana contest from one that leaned Republican to a pure tossup, a new headache for Republicans who once saw recapturing the Senate as a layup.
Michael Cooper's Thursday morning Caucus post stirred the pot, saying three times that Mourdock has "complicated" things for Mitt Romney's campaign in "Mourdock’s Comments Pose Dilemma for Romney."
Cooper put Romney between a rock and a hard place.
The charged anti-abortion comments made this week by Richard Mourdock, a Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, pose something of a dilemma for Mitt Romney. If Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, does not distance himself enough from Mr. Mourdock, he could find it harder to narrow his deficit with women -- but if he distances himself too much, he could turn off some of the evangelical voters whose turnout will be crucial is he is to carry swing states like Iowa and Ohio.
Mr. Mourdock’s abortion comments came just as there were signs in some polls that Mr. Romney was beginning to narrow his gap with women, who have been an important source of support for President Obama. But if he denounces Mr. Mourdock too strongly Mr. Romney could alienate some of the evangelical voters who have viewed him warily in the past.
This is where Mr. Mourdock’s comments may prove complicated for Mr. Romney.
The comments put Mr. Romney in a complicated position. The Mourdock campaign had released an advertisement on Monday that featured Mr. Romney endorsing Mr. Mourdock. While the Romney campaign said that Mr. Romney disagreed with Mr. Mourdock, the campaign did not ask him to remove the television ad. Taking a harder line could turn off already wary evangelical voters.
And there is another complication for Mr. Romney: he would no doubt like to see Republicans control the Senate, especially if he wins the presidency and needs their support to enact legislation. Taking a harder line against Mr. Mourdock could complicate that goal.