If Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock was feeling any heat for the high-profile comments he made about pregnancy, rape and abortion, it wasn't at a Republican fundraiser Wednesday night in the wealthy Indianapolis suburb of Carmel.
“I believe that life begins at conception,” said Mourdock, the state’s treasurer, at Tuesday night's debate. “The only exception I have for—to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother [being at risk]. I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Mourdock smiled and laughed Wednesday night while working the room at a private reception for Indiana Republicans, including Indiana's Republican secretary of state and attorney general, and several state lawmakers.
"It's another day on the campaign trail. You have up days, you have down days, but I'm really, really gratified with everything that's been said to me here tonight," Mourdock told the Associated Press as he left the reception and walked into the dinner.
Mourdock shared the stage at the fundraiser with gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence, and Republican donors said his comments likely would fire up Indiana's base of anti-abortion voters. Staff for the Hamilton County Republican Party, which hosted the Wednesday fundraiser, barred press from the dinner.
Mourdock's comments might not sink his campaign in Indiana, a state where Democrats and Republicans alike campaign against abortion.
But with female voters critical in the presidential race and other tight contests two weeks before Election Day, many in Republicans 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, saying 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.
So far, at least, Mourdock's comment does not seem to be provoking as loud an uproar as those from U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., this summer that a woman's body can prevent pregnancy in cases of what he called "legitimate rape."
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 news calls and conferences and airing 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."
After riding the tea party wave to victory over Lugar, Mourdock had been moving toward a less strident tone as he sought to refocus the race on Donnelly's support of the federal health care overhaul.
Throughout a political career that dates to the 1980s, Mourdock always has opposed 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 in recent elections. A federal appeals court blocked the Indiana General Assembly's effort to defund Planned Parenthood on 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. 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."