Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg wasted no time in trying to tie Mike Pence to his fellow Republican Richard Mourdock's comment that life was God-given even when it occurred as a pregnancy resulting from rape.
Gregg opened Thursday night's gubernatorial debate by accusing Pence of trying to be "politically expedient" in distancing himself from the remark, which was made Tuesday night at a debate between Mourdock and other senatorial candidates. Gregg also said his Republican foe runs on a "Pence-Mourdock ticket."
"Yesterday, Congressman Pence tried to separate himself from his ticket mate Richard Mourdock, announced that he now supported abortion for the survivors of rape and incest," Gregg said in his opening statement. "Well, that's not what he told Indiana Right to Life earlier this year. Career politicians always change their position when it's politically expedient."
“I believe that life begins at conception,” said Mourdock, the state’s treasurer, at the 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.”
Pence urged Mourdock to apologize for his remarks and said he disagrees with his comments. But Gregg argued Pence and Mourdock share the same position on abortion and said Pence is waffling on the issue.
Pence said afterward he thought it was time to move past the issue — a sentiment echoed by national Republicans as they close in on Election Day.
"I think it was very clear I disagreed with his statement," Pence said. "I encouraged him to apologize. He's apologized and clarified his statement, and I think Hoosiers want us to move on."
Mourdock, however, did not directly apologize for his comment. He did apologize Wednesday to anyone who mistakenly though he meant that God intended rape to happen. And he said he abhors any sexual violence and regrets it if his comment during the debate Tuesday night left another impression. He said he firmly believes that all life is precious and that abhors violence of any kind.
Pence declined to clarify his statement Thursday night.
Mourdock's comments in a Senate debate Tuesday have dominated the national political conversation since then and spurred some Republicans to distance themselves from him. Pence's request for an apology was featured in a $1.1 million ad buy from national Democrats attempting to keep Mourdock's comment front and center in Indiana.
Pence, Gregg and Libertarian Rupert Boneham met for their final debate in Fort Wayne. Viewers around the state missed Gregg's comments because the first 12 minutes of the hourlong meeting were blacked out by a problem with the video feed from the debate.
Gregg made repeated attempts to tie Pence to Mourdock, but the questions quickly moved the debate to other topics, requiring the candidates to weigh in on teaching creationism in schools, decriminalizing marijuana and reviewing the state's contract to buy natural gas from a proposed power plant in Rockport.
When asked about creationism, Pence said he was in favor of giving more freedom to teachers in the classroom but did not say whether he would sign a bill allowing it to be taught in Indiana schools.
"Issues of curriculum should all be decided ultimately by parents and local schools, not dictated by Indianapolis," Pence said, leaving the door open for possibly opposing the measure. State lawmakers are expected to debate the issue during the upcoming legislative session, giving whoever wins the governor's race a hot-button issue to confront out the gate.
Only Boneham ruled out support for teaching creationism. Neither Pence nor Gregg gave a clear answer, although Gregg said he's told editorial boards that Indiana for 15 or 20 years has allowed schools to teach the Bible as literature, saying one of his sons had taken such a class.
"I think that's a good place to leave it," he said.
Asked about Indiana's contract to buy natural gas from a proposed coal-gasification plant in Rockport — a contract that could potentially raise energy costs for Indiana ratepayers — Pence said he would consider hearing from lawmakers if they wanted to talk about it and Gregg said he knew about it and had "good people studying it right now."
Pence and Gregg also said they would oppose decriminalizing marijuana in Indiana, an idea being pushed by a Republican state senator. Gregg, however, said he would consider legalizing marijuana in medical cases, noting his own battle against prostate cancer eight years ago.