Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock refused to apologize Wednesday for saying that when pregnancy results from rape then that is "something God intended."
State Republicans and a few congressional leaders defended Mourdock, whose prospects of winning the seat long held by the GOP are unclear.
But with female voters critical in the tight presidential race and other stalemated contests two weeks before Election Day, many in the party distanced themselves with varying levels of abruptness and clarity, underscoring the difficult nature of the uproar even among other anti-abortion Republicans.
Indiana gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence sought an apology from Murdock. Indiana House candidate Jackie Walorski, meanwhile, issued three statements Wednesday: two disagreeing with Mourdock and one suggesting that Republicans get back to talking about President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
That didn't happen Wednesday as the issue ricocheted around the nation's political landscape, from the presidential contest on down.
Mourdock, meanwhile, dove into damage control Wednesday, explaining that he abhors violence of any kind and regrets that some may have misconstrued and "twisted" his comments. But he stood behind the original remark in Tuesday night's debate.
"I spoke from my heart. And speaking from my heart, speaking from the deepest level of my faith, I would not apologize. I would be less than faithful if I said anything other than life is precious, I believe it's a gift from God," Mourdock said at a news conference Wednesday.
GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's campaign quickly said he disagrees with Mourdock's initial remarks, but Romney did not cancel a television ad in which he endorses the Senate candidate. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte canceled an event scheduled for Wednesday with Mourdock. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, told CNN that his continued support of Mourdock "depends on what he does."
McCain said he wants to see "if he apologizes and says he misspoke and he was wrong and asks people to forgive him. It's when you don't own up to it that people will not believe in you."
Mourdock aides said the McCain spot was taped before Mourdock's Wednesday press conference. But Mourdock never apologized for those comments.
But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. John Cornyn issued statements of support, acutely aware that Mourdock's fortunes in Indiana could hold the key to winning control of the Senate. Republicans must gain four seats if President Barack Obama is re-elected, three if Romney prevails.
In Indiana, it wasn't supposed to be this way. Mourdock's upset of veteran Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in the May primary created an opening for Democrats looking to fight for what would have otherwise been a safe GOP seat. The surprisingly close race between Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly has spurred national Republicans to send more money and national stars to Indiana recently in an attempt to hold the seat.
Although Ayotte cancelled plans to headline a fundraiser for Mourdock in Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Republican Women Club pushed on with the fundraiser. Speaking inside the closed-door event, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb declined to comment on Mourdock's explanation Wednesday and said the loss of Ayotte from the trail Wednesday would not slow their efforts to elect Mourdock.
"I think we're moving full steam ahead," he said.
Mourdock's rape comment seemed to fall a few steps short of Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's comment earlier this summer that a woman's body would block against pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape," both in terms of the comment itself and its potential impact in the race.
National Republican and conservative groups, including Crossroads GPS, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Club for Growth, continued their on-air assault against Donnelly. A Democratic source tracking ad buys nationally said Wednesday there was no effort from Mourdock supporters to pull out of the state, as there was in Missouri, following Akin's comments.
Democrats capitalized on the remarks Wednesday, holding press calls and press conferences and cutting Web ads tying Romney to Mourdock. Donnelly appeared in downtown Indianapolis in front of the Julian Center, which counsels victims of rape, sex trafficking and abuse.
"It is hurtful to women, to survivors of rape and to their families," Donnelly said. "His words were extreme, but more important, hurtful to victims of sexual abuse."
Mourdock refashioned himself at the end of the summer, moving away from the tea party rhetoric that carried him to victory over Lugar and attempting to refocus the race on Donnelly's vote in support of the federal health care law.
Throughout a political career that dates back to the 1980s, Mourdock always has maintained that he opposes abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is at risk.
Donnelly opposes abortion but supports exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. However, the Democrat was among more than 200 lawmakers, most of them Republicans, who backed legislation last year that would have cut off federal aid for abortion services, even in cases of rape and incest. A spokeswoman later said the congressman didn't realize the bill would go that far.
It was still unclear Wednesday whether Mourdock's comments would hurt his chances in Indiana, a state that has increasingly become dominated by social conservatives over the last few election cycles. A federal appeals court blocked the Indiana General Assembly's effort to defund Planned Parenthood earlier Tuesday and state lawmakers will likely consider legislation next year to allow the teaching of Creationism.
Downtown Indianapolis workers taking their lunch break in the warm October sunshine for the most part said they didn't think Mourdock meant his remark the way it sounded, but they hadn't intended to vote for him anyway. Most said they hadn't watched the debate but had heard the buzz about what Mourdock said.
"It came across as that's God's will for that woman to be raped," said Judy Stratom, a 50-year-old administrative worker. "I don't think that's what he meant, but that's the way the world took it."
"I honestly don't think he meant to say that rape was a gift from God," said office worker Saundra Taylor, 48, who was relaxing on a bench on the steps of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. "I think he could have worded it better."
Associated Press writer Charles D. Wilson in Indianapolis contributed to this report.