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The Akin Effect: Did "Legitimate Rape" Make Mourdock's Gaffe Worse?


“It was a double whammy,” says Bonjean. An Akin adviser says it's nice to see Republicans standing behind Mourdock.

Image by Michael Conroy / AP

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said pregnancies resulting from rape are "something that God intended to happen," the ensuing outrage was swift and severe.

Democrats leaped on the comments, using them to not only batter Mourdock and raise their prospects in his race, but to try to tie Mitt Romney's campaign to Mourdock's beliefs.

And almost immediately, Mourdock became inextricably linked to Rep. Todd Akin, the Senate candidate in Missouri who, earlier this year, said women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in the case of "legitimate rape."

"Ever since the Todd Akin controversy started to fade, the media's been on the lookout for a new punching bag," Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, wrote in the council's weekly update Wednesday. "Yesterday, they found one: Hoosier conservative Richard Mourdock."

Republicans, however, say that Mourdock should have known better, arguing that raising the issue of rape in the waning days of a campaign is politically reckless, especially in the wake of the Akin controversy.

"There's a difference between understanding human biology and a belief system, but that’s not the issue," said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist in Washington. "The issue is that those comments are not what voters are looking to hear about from a candidate."

"You're in the last two weeks in the election. A few words that shouldn't be said by candidates are, 'Hitler,' racial slurs, and 'rape' — especially during that time," Bonjean said, adding, "It was a double whammy with the Todd Akin comment."

But most Republicans have not pulled their support for Mourdock — even though the much of the party, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, abandoned Akin after his remark. Even, Mitt Romney, who cut an ad for Mourdock that is still running on Indiana television, has refused to condemn him and has not pulled his endorsement.

That apparent paradox begs the question: Would Mourdock's remark have incited equivalent anger without Akin's infamous precedent? Democrats and Republicans seem to agree.

"The short answer is yes," argued one Indiana Democratic operative.

"What Mourdock said was hurtful and he only offered non-apology apologies. And Mourdock was featuring Romney in an ad, which seems to have driven quite a bit of the national attention," the operative added.

For his part, Mourdock has remained more defiant than Akin, opting to issue a clarification rather than an apology like his Missouri counterpart.

"God creates life, and that was my point," Mourdock said in a statement released by his campaign Wednesday. "God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does."

That rationale seemed to satisfy Republicans, who pledged not only their continued support — but money, too.

On Friday, the Club for Growth, a conservative PAC, committed more money to the Indiana race, bringing its total for the election to more than $3.5 million. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also said it will continue to fund pro-Mourdock advertising.

Among the Akin campaign, for whom the lack of such financial backing has stymied what otherwise might have been a competitive campaign, the party's decision to stick with Mourdock has engendered some bitterness.

"Certainly it’s good to see that the NRSC is now standing by Republican candidates for Senate after their primary wins, and without question that’s a policy they should have been adhering to on Aug. 20," said Nick Everhart, a strategist working for Akin's campaign.

"They aren’t there to be kingmakers or make those kind of decisions. Their job is to help the GOP nominee get elected, period."

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