CLARKSVILLE, Ind. (WHAS11) -- Amid a political firestorm, embattled U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock apologized on Wednesday for how a remark was interpreted at a debate on Tuesday night.
"If in any way people came away with the wrong meaning, for that I do apologize," Mourdock said, yet the Republican State Treasurer is standing by the principles behind his remark that life is an intended gift from God, including a pregnancy resulting from rape.
"I came to realize that life is that gift from God," Mourdock said at the debate. "And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
Democrats were quick to link Mourdock's comment to Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin's August reference to "legitimate rape," suggesting Republicans are insensitive and extreme on the abortion debate.
"I don't know how these guys come up with these ideas," President Barack Obama told talk show host Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. "Let me make a very simple proposition. Rape is rape. It is a crime. And so these various distinctions about rape don't make too much sense to me, don't make any sense to me."
"I am confident that God abhors violence and rape," Mourdock clarified. "If they came away from any impression other than that, I truly regret it. I apologize that they came away and I certainly have been humbled by the fact that so many people think that that somehow was an interpretation.
"He clearly said in there that if rape resulted in a pregnancy, that God intended it to happen," insisted Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Joe Donnelly.
Mourdock's attempts to clarify demonstrated why abortion is such a difficult issue that blends politics with biology, morality and theology.
One reporter asked Mourdock if he believed that if a rape resulted in a pregnancy that God intended for that pregnancy to take place.
"You know, that's a call above my pay grade," Mourdock responded.
Donnelly also opposes abortion, but with an exemption for rape and incest victims. All three candidates were asked to explain their "pro-life" opposition to abortion rights.
During the actual debate, neither Donnelly or Libertarian Andrew Horning reacted to the comment. A flurry of e-mails from Donnelly's campaign during the campaign didn't even mention the remark. But, the comment took on a life of its own as national Democrats blasted Mourdock and the remark exploded on social media and in national news.
"To twist and suggest that somehow I was saying that God approves of rape is the wrong thing," Mourdock said. "Because it's not what I was saying. It's not what I intended."
Hoosier voters interviewed in Clarksville Wednesday afternoon appeared inclined to give Mourdock the benefit of the doubt.
"I was not offended at all," said Pam Kraft, "because I believe, I do not believe abortion is right in any case."
"Bad things happen to people," added Scott Johnson. "Ultimately, God can take a bad situation and turn it into something, can use it and make something great out of it."
Yet, men may not be best equipped to tackle the abortion question, suggested Tracy Harden.
"He just kept on rambling and couldn't get his point across," he said. "and ended up saying something that got twisted around by other politicians."
Fellow Republican Mitt Romney's campaign said he disagreed with the debate comment, but is not withdrawing his endorsement or asking Mourdock to pull a television commercial that features Romney. The Republican candidate for governor, Mike Pence, called on Mourdock to apologize.
"Apparently, Governor Romney doesn't think (Mourdock's) words were twisted, Mike Pence doesn't think his words were twisted," Donnelly said. "I don't think his words were twisted. He said what he said and he said it on live television."
Unlike the Akin controversy which saw national GOP leaders call for the Missouri Republican to leave the race, Republican leaders stood behind Akin on Wednesday.
“It's incredibly irresponsible for anyone to take what Richard said about his views on life to demean his opposition to the detestable act of rape," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "We're at the end of an election season here and I understand each side is looking to make hay out of every comment, but sharing the view of millions of Americans that life begins at conception is Richard’s deeply held personal belief that shouldn’t be misconstrued by partisans to imply something it does not.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also backed Mourdock.
"Richard and I, along with millions of Americans – including even Joe Donnelly – believe that life is a gift from God," Cornyn said in a statement. "To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous."
Yet, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who appeared with Mourdock in Indianapolis one week ago, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that his endorsement is now conditioned on how Mourdock handles the fallout.
"It depends on what he does," McCain told Cooper. "If he apologizes and says he misspoke and he was wrong and he asks the people to forgive him, then obviously I would be the first."
"We're moving on from this," Mourdock said. "I'm confident Hoosier voters are going to be moving on and going to be supporting us in big numbers in just 13 days."
"I'll count on the wisdom of the voters of the state of Indiana," Donnelly said. "They have always shown extraordinary wisdom and I think they'll certainly take this into account."
"I think this issue serves to energize the people who supported me," Mourdock said. "Sometimes controversy can be a good thing in politics."
Polls indicate the Senate race was neck and neck before the debate, despite Republican Mitt Romney leading Democrat incumbent Barack Obama by double digits in the presidential race.
With Mourdock needing to broaden his appeal to centrist voters who supported incumbent Republican Richard Lugar for decades, the controversy appears to be another hurdle for the Tea Party candidate to clear in that effort.