By Elise Viebeck - 10/24/12 02:49 PM EDT
President Obama's campaign on Wednesday sought to capitalize on Mitt Romney's ties to an Indiana Senate candidate in order to make a push for women voters.
Richard Mourdock (R), who's in a tough race, said in a candidate debate Tuesday night that pregnancy caused by rape is "something God intended to happen." Romney has cut an ad for Mourdock — a rare move by the GOP nominee — which began airing Tuesday.
Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki used that connection to zero in on Romney and argue Republicans would hurt women's abilities to make choices about their health.
"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 healthcare. ... This is an issue where Mitt Romney is starring in an ad for this senator (sic) and it is perplexing that he wouldn't demand to have that ad taken down," Psaki said.
An official with the Romney campaign said they will not ask that the ad be taken down, but the GOP nominee distanced himself from Mourdock on Tuesday night.
"Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.
Both campaigns are battling for female voters, and polls have shown Romney making gains with that voting bloc.
In a candidate debate Tuesday night, Mourdock was asked about exceptions he believes in for abortion.
He noted he only believes in exceptions for life of the mother — most Republicans also allow exceptions for rape and incest — and said, choking up: "I struggled with it myself a long time but I came to realize that life is a gift from God, that I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen."
Democrats have been eager to capitalize on the confusion. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Tuesday that Mourdock's opposition to abortion in cases of rape is "part and parcel of the Republican Party's platform toward women's health."
"As Mourdock’s most prominent booster and the star of Mourdock’s current campaign ads, Mitt Romney should immediately denounce these comments and request that the ad featuring him speaking directly to camera on Mourdock’s behalf be taken off the air," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who gained national prominence campaigning for Romney, will not appear with Mourdock on Wednesday, according to Talking Points Memo. She has campaigned for Mourdock before, as have Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) said it will stand by Mourdock.
The controversy is reminiscent of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's (R) remark this summer that victims of "legitimate rape" rarely become pregnant. He was also asked his views on whether rape victims should be able to get an abortion, and said: "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
The NRSC pulled its support of Akin after that comment and Romney called for Akin to step down as the GOP nominee.
But the committee reiterated its support for Mourdock, who's running neck and neck with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).
"Of course we stand by him – it'd be patently ridiculous not to stand by him," NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer told The Hill Tuesday night. "What he said, and millions of people believe, is life is a gift from God. That is something a lot of Republican and a lot of Democrats believe. Most pro-life people believe life is a gift."
—Cameron Joseph contributed.
— This story was last updated at 11:48 a.m.