RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We turn now to the race for the U.S. Senate in Indiana. That race has tightened in recent weeks, in part because of a controversial statement about rape and abortion made by Republican candidate Richard Mourdock. It's the second time in recent months that a Republican Senate candidate has made headlines with such comments. Congressman Todd Akin is behind in the polls in Missouri after making a similar remark in August. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports on how now Mourdock is in the same bind.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Republicans have been hoping to gain control of the U.S. Senate. The path towards victory had Indiana solidly on their side. That was, until Indiana's treasurer, Richard Mourdock, beat longtime Senator Richard Lugar in the primary. Then, during a recent debate, Mourdock and his Democratic opponent, congressman Joe Donnelly, were asked about abortion and contraception. Like Donnelly, Mourdock said he was against abortion.
RICHARD MOURDOCK: The only exception I have for, to have on abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize 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.
GLINTON: Mourdock's statement sent a shudder through the Republican Party. Mitt Romney had only just waded into the campaign, cutting a commercial for Mourdock. His campaign was quick to say that the nominee disagreed with Mourdock. And Mourdock says his comments were misinterpreted for political gain.
MOURDOCK: When I walked off the stage, I expected, walking to my green room, to get high fives because I had no idea that the statement that I made would possibly go a direction that it went. I didn't think that anyone could possibly begin to take those words and construe a meaning from them that was never intended and certainly never meant.
GLINTON: That's Mourdock speaking to reporters a few days later at a campaign stop at a cafe in the town of Greenfield in central Indiana.
MOURDOCK: I really appreciate your being here. You know, we have been traveling the state and, since, oh, well, February 22, 2011 officially.
GLINTON: Mourdock remains beloved by conservatives and members of the Tea Party, especially after defeating long-time Senator Richard Lugar.
CAROL STOVER: My name is Carol Stover. I'm the owner of Carol's Cornerstone cafe.
GLINTON: Stover opened her restaurant to the Mourdock campaign.
STOVER: I think it's been blown out of proportion, really. But I think he made a mistake, and he's probably sorry for it. Maybe, I don't know. But it doesn't bother me. It doesn't stand in my way. It's, you know, it's something that everybody has their opinion.
GLINTON: Stover says she's already voted for Mourdock, and his debate statement wouldn't have made a difference even if she hadn't. Many other women apparently aren't as forgiving. A new poll shows Donnelly with a lead, largely thanks to women. Meanwhile, Joe Donnelly, the Democrat, ties to thread a needle to pick up those women and moderates turned off by Mourdock.
REPRESENTATIVE JOE DONNELLY: I think Indiana's tradition has always been people like Richard Lugar, people like Evan Bayh, who have always tried to make sure that good decisions and sound decisions are made.
GLINTON: In his stump speech, Donnelly rarely, if ever, mentions the Democratic Party or President Obama - probably shrewd politics in a state, which will likely vote solidly for Romney.
DONNELLY: I am really focused on the Senate race, on the chance to represent the people of Indiana in the United States Senate. And so that's where my focus is. Those other races will take care of themselves, but I'm doing everything I can on the Senate level.
GLINTON: Other people are focusing on the Indiana Senate race as well. There's been $24 million in outside money pouring into the contest - $8 million of which came in the last week. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.
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