GREENFIELD — Republican Richard Mourdock walked away from last week’s debate for U.S. Senate with confidence, not realizing his words over abortion in the case of rape would turn into such a firestorm.
“When I walked off the stage, I expected to walk into the green room and get high-fives,” said Mourdock at a campaign stop in Greenfield Monday. “I had no idea the statement… would go the direction it took.”
Mourdock, who defeated longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in the spring, is in a tight race against Democrat U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly for the senate seat. Libertarian Andrew Horning is also running.
On Oct. 23, the three participated in a debate and answered a question on whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. Mourdock’s response received a firestorm of criticism across the country.
“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mourdock said at the debate. “And, I think, horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intends to happen.”
Donnelly called the statement insulting to rape victims and their families; President Barack Obama said it was “outrageous and demeaning to women.”
As some Republicans began to shy away from their support for Mourdock, others stood behind him. Mourdock said the following day that to twist his words to suggest that God approves of rape was certainly not what he intended.
Now, nearly a week after the comment, Mourdock is trying to move on. He spoke at Carol’s Cornerstone Café to a crowd of about 20 – a mix of Mourdock volunteers, tea party supporters, local elected officials and officers of the Hancock County GOP.
Mourdock did not mention the abortion comment during his speech. Instead, he focused on last month’s Benghazi attacks in Libya and his stance to repeal Obamacare.
But it was clear the issue was at the forefront of the minds of many at the event. Several have been going door-to-door for Mourdock and were upset that his words in the debate had become so controversial.
“Life begins at conception, OK?” Fred Dunlevy said. “But I also think anything after that is between a woman and her doctor. That’s where I think he should have stopped. They were looking to set him up and they did, and he fell right into it.”
Dunlevy first heard about the uproar when fellow tea party supporter George Langston called him the morning after the debate. Both have been hard at work knocking on doors and handing out Mourdock fliers at gun shows.
“I thought, ‘We’re done,’” Dunlevy recalls. “But then when I looked at it and watched it, I watched it a couple of times. Then I understood what he said.”
Langston looks at the situation with hope that voters will like Mourdock’s openness. He says people can trust Mourdock to tell the truth, and not sugar-coat his beliefs.
“It’s very rare you hear somebody that speaks their mind. You know what you’re getting,” Langston said.
Jan Brown, also a member of the Tea Party of Hancock County, said Mourdock’s statement was a mismatch of words, just “one of those freaky mistakes we all make.”
The group passed around Mourdock fliers, and “Say no to Joe” yard signs.
Betty Aguilar has been a longtime supporter of Mourdock, and she hopes he is elected to get conservative leadership in the Senate.
“He’s standing by his convictions, and I believe the same way. Life begins at conception” she said.
C.O. Montgomery, the chair of Mourdock’s campaign in Hancock County, said he believes Mourdock’s statement may cost him some votes, but it will not cost him the election.
Mourdock himself remains optimistic about next week’s election results.
“As we’re traveling Indiana, we are fired up,” he told the crowd. “I’m convinced we will see an amazing Election Day next Tuesday.”
He answered questions from several media outlets afterward, acknowledging his words are now being used against him. He said he agrees with a Wall Street Journal columnist, who compared Donnelly’s response to the gaffe as “sleazy.”
“I’m focusing on going forward,” Mourdock said about how the issue has affected his campaign. “I don’t know. You’re asking me to predict the future.”
Mourdock added, however, that Hoosiers are tired of seeing negative ads on TV and that people realize the race is about more than the one comment.
Asked how he would rephrase his comment if he could, Mourdock replied, “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube; you can’t unring the bell.”