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Senate Candidate Apologizes for Rape Comment

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By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) — U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said Wednesday he is sorry if he offended anyone for saying pregnancies from rape are “something that God intended to happen,” but accused Democrats of distorting his comments for political gain.

“For those who want to kind of twist the comments and use them for partisan, political gain, I think that’s what’s wrong with Washington these days,” Mourdock told reporters at a news conference. “I spoke from my heart; I spoke with my principle; I spoke from my faith. And if others want to somehow turn those words and use them against me, again, that’s what’s wrong with Washington today.

“It is win at any costs. Let’s make up issues when we can’t find real ones. Let’s twist, let’s distort, let’s deceive. And I think that’s a sad process.”

His initial comments came during a debate Tuesday with Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and prompted outrage among Democrats who accuse the GOP of seeking to undermine women’s rights.

“Mr. Mourdock’s lack of compassion for rape survivors is callous, insulting and completely out of touch,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Mourdock’s remarks touched the presidential campaign Wednesday because GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney endorsed the Republican in a television ad earlier this week. But the Romney camp quickly distanced itself from the controversy, saying it has a policy disagreement with Mourdock but has not asked for the ad to be pulled from Indiana airwaves.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign set up a website to denounce Mourdock. Democratic groups, including the Democratic National Committee and a Democratic super PAC, put out web videos Wednesday morning to highlight Mourdock’s comments.

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz issued a statement describing the comment as “outrageous and demeaning to women” and called on Romney to take down his ad for Mourdock.

On Twitter, the term Mourdock became an immediate trend with many blasting the Republican hopeful:

— “@vegasjful So you get gang raped by an atheist, muslim, and Republican……??? Which seed was Gods?”

— “@LosferWords Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock thinks that God uses criminal activity to bless women with a child.”

During the Tuesday debate, Mourdock was explaining his opposition to abortion in cases of rape or incest when he made his remark.

“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is a 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,” said Mourdock, the Indiana state treasurer. He added that he would allow for exceptions to an abortion ban when a mother’s life was in danger.

Seeking to clarify his comments, Mourdock told reporters on Wednesday that “I absolutely abhor violence. I absolutely abhor any kind of sexual violence. I abhor rape, and I am absolutely confident that, as I stand here, the God that I worship abhors violence, abhors sexual violence, and abhors rape. The God that I worship would never, ever want to see evil done,” he said.

“So many people mistook, twisted, came to misunderstand the points that I was trying to make. … If they came away with any impression other than that, I truly regret it.”

Republicans offered mixed responses, with some — such as Romney and one of his supporters, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, as well as the Republican running for the Indiana governorship — distancing themselves from or repudiating the remarks.

Ayotte was to campaign with Mourdock on Wednesday, but canceled those plans. Her spokesman, Jeff Grappone, issued a statement saying, “She disagrees with Treasurer Mourdock’s comments, which do not represent her views.”

The GOP candidate for governor in Indiana, Rep. Mike Pence, said in a statement issued Wednesday, “I strongly disagree with the statement made by Richard Mourdock during last night’s Senate debate. I urge him to apologize.”

Others, such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, came out in support of Mourdock. Cornyn is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“Richard and I, along with millions of Americans — including even Joe Donnelly — believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous,” Cornyn said in a written statement.

Donnelly has said he opposes abortion, but would allow exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is endangered.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion, said, “To report (Mourdock’s) statement as an endorsement of rape is either willfully ignorant or malicious.”

The Republican Senate candidate’s remarks on rape and abortion are the latest flash point on the highly sensitive issue. In August, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri — also running for Senate — ignited a firestorm when he said “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy.

Akin, who faced backlash from Democrats as well as from most of his own party, defiantly remained in the race, despite calls from GOP leaders, including Romney, that he step aside.

A senior GOP strategist, however, said Mourdock may not face as much pushback from Republican leaders as Akin experienced, given the limited time remaining before Election Day and the importance for the GOP to win the Indiana seat.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that Obama “felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women.”

“This is a reminder that a Republican Congress working with a Republican President Mitt Romney would (feel) that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care,” she said, according to notes taken by a pool reporter.

“This is an issue where Mitt Romney is starring in an ad,” she continued, “and it is perplexing that he wouldn’t demand to have that ad taken down.”

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Dana Bash, Paul Steinhauser, Rachel Streitfeld, and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.