Sen. John McCain called on Richard Mourdock, the GOP Senate candidate in Indiana, to apologize for his remark that pregnancies that result from rape are all part of God’s plan.
The last Republican presidential nominee said he would only continue to support the Tea Party-backed Senate hopeful if Mourdock apologized for his comments.
The controversy is a late-breaking headache for Mitt Romney’s campaign. Romney appeared in a rare endorsement ad released this week in which the presidential candidate offers hearty support to Mourdock, the state treasurer who upset the GOP establishment by winning the Senate nomination earlier this year.
The Romney campaign released a statement to NBC News Wednesday afternoon confirming that the GOP presidential nominee continues to back Mourdock despite disavowing his most recent comment.
However McCain’s intervention adds new pressure on the Romney campaign to back away from Mourdock altogether as it did with Rep. Todd Akin this summer, when the GOP Senate candidate in Missouri issued his now infamous “legitimate rape” comment.
Indiana’s Senate race remains unusually close in a state where President Obama is not competitive. Recent polls suggest the contest is tied in a conservative-leaning state that Republicans need to win in order to take control of the U.S. Senate.
Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper if McCain was still in Mourdock’s “corner,” the senator and 2008 Republican nominee for president said his continued support would require an apology from his GOP colleague.
“I think it depends on what he does,” McCain said. “If he apologizes and says he misspoke and he was wrong and asks the people to forgive him, then obviously I’d be the first. You know, in the years that I’ve been around, I’ve made a few, Anderson. I’ve asked for understanding and forgiveness. It’s when you don’t own up to it when people will not believe you.
Last week, McCain and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were in Indianapolis campaigning for Mourdock against his Democratic challenger Joe Donnelly. A spokesperson for the governor told the Star-Ledger that Christie “completely rejects Richard Mourdock’s beliefs and views on this issue,” but did not say whether or not he would pull his endorsement.
Mourdock set off immediate controversy when he said during a debate with Donnelly Tuesday night that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Some Republican leaders, including Sen. John Cornyn, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, have sought to reframe Mourdock’s comments as part of the notion that life begins at conception. Cornyn released a statement saying that “Richard and I, along with millions of Americans – including even [Democratic opponent] 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.”
Mourdock also said his words were “twisted” and that he “abhors violence, any kind of sexual violence,” but has not apologized for his remark.
Democrats, including President Obama, have roundly condemned Mourdock’s remarks.
Asked about Mourdock, Obama did not hesitate to offer his opinions about the rape comments during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Wednesday.
“Let me make a very simple proposition: Rape is rape. It is a crime,” Obama told Jay Leno during a taping of the show. “These various distinctions about rape don’t make very much sense to me.”
McCain joins fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who canceled a Wednesday appearance with Mourdock following his remarks.
A spokesman for Ayotte, who was once floated as a potential running mate for Romney, did not say why the event was canceled, but did note that the senator “disagrees with Treasurer Mourdock’s comments.”