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Key Republicans work to stem fallout from Mourdock remarks

Republican heavyweights are seeking to defend Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, whose comments about pregnancy and rape this week have put an already at-risk GOP Senate seat in further danger. 

Mourdock dominated several interviews on news shows, with GOP stars Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) among those seeking to help him. 

"In the years that I’ve been around, I’ve made a few ... and I’ve asked for people's understanding and forgiveness when I won't — when I own up to it. It’s when you don't own up to it when people will not believe you," McCain said in an interview Wednesday on CNN.

On Thursday, McCain repeated his support for Mourdock, and said he accepted the Indiana Treasurer's apology for his remarks at a Wednesday press conference. In the earlier CNN interview, McCain had suggested Moudock apologize, not realizing he had already done so. 

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Democrats have sought to turn Mourdock into another Rep. Todd Akin, the Missouri GOP Senate candidate who this summer said women were unlikely to become pregnant from "legitimate rape" because their bodies have ways of preventing such. 

National Republicans pulled support from Akin in the wake of that controversy, and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other leaders called for him to withdraw from the race.

Mourdock's comments were different from Akin's, however, and while some Republicans have criticized him, others have pushed back hard at Democrats, who they say have twisted Mourdock's remarks.

Mourdock in a Tuesday night debate against Democrat Joe Donnelly described his opposition to legalized abortions in cases of rape and incest. The Indiana Treasurer decried rape in strong terms, but argued God chooses when pregnancy occurs and that abortion is equivalent to murder, stating "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something God intended to happen."

In a press conference Wednesday, Mourdock accused Democrats of miscasting the meaning of his comments.

"I would be less than faithful to my faith if I said anything other than 'Life is precious.' I think it is a gift from God. I don't think God would ever want anyone harmed, sexually abused or raped. I think it's wrong when someone wants to take what I said and twist it," Mourdock said.

Santorum, the former GOP presidential contender, defended Mourdock in a separate interview on CNN Wednesday, accusing the media of playing " 'gotcha' politics."

Santorum said one would have to "contort words beyond meaning" to read Mourdock’s statement as saying "rape was a gift from God."

"What the Senate candidate said is that the child is a gift from God and whether it's conceived by rape or not, it's still the gift of human life, is a gift from God, and that's what he said," Santorum told CNN. "He didn't say rape was a gift from God. You'd have to contort words beyond meaning to get that understanding of it.

"I don't think anyone's who watched that — I watched it — could think anything other the fact that he was talking about the baby in the womb as something that is precious and is a gift through the horrible circumstances of that gift being created, yes, but it's still that life needs to be protected," Santorum continued.

The Pennsylvania Republican went on to say if one of his daughters had been impregnated during rape, he would help her to understand "that that child in the womb is a human life and it was a horrible thing to be created, but it's still a human life and my children all know as I do that that is — that is a human being that deserves our love and support and protection."

"That child didn't do anything wrong," Santorum said. "That baby didn't do anything illegal."

In an interview on Thursday, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said while he disagreed with the Mourdock remarks, he saw Democratic efforts to tie them to Romney as an attempt to distract voters from President Obama’s economic record.

"I don't agree with what he said. I thought what he said was kind of crazy," Barbour told CBS News. "But, having said that, this election for president is not about that. This election for president is about Obama's failed economic record in job creation, in exploding debt, skyrocketing spending."

Barbour, asked if Mourdock should apologize, said that the "he's got to decide that."

"It's not what I think — I wouldn't have said or how I would characterize something," Mourdock said. "But I can tell you, Barack Obama loves it when CBS News or CNN or Fox News is talking about what some guy running for senator said instead of what the American people are really concerned about, because the more this election is about the economy and jobs the worse Obama does."

Democrats have made it clear they believe the issue could hurt Mourdock in Indiana and Romney in the presidential race. 

Romney cut an ad for Mourdock this week, and has declined to ask Mourdock to take it down. 

During an appearance Wednesday night on "The Tonight Show," President Obama criticized Mourdock. 

"You know, I don't know how these guys come up with these ideas," Obama said. "Let me make a very simple proposition. Rape is rape. It is a crime. And so, these various distinctions about rape and, you know — don't make too much sense to me. Don't make any sense to me."

This story was updated at 10:56 a.m.