Richard Mourdock, Controversy Magnet, Faces Off Against Joe Donnelly: Indiana Election 2012

11/06/2012 08:09 am ET

The precise moment the Indiana Senate race became interesting was when state Treasurer Richard Mourdock rode the remaining vestiges of the 2010 Tea Party wave to defeat veteran incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the GOP primary and effectively end his political career. Lugar's primary sin? A willingness to reach across the aisle and work with his Democratic colleagues as well as the Obama White House.

In the aftermath of Mourdock's primary win, he made it clear what "bipartisan compromise" would mean, for all intents and purposes, going forward. “I certainly think bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view," said Mourdock, adding, "To me, the highlight of politics, frankly, is to inflict my opinion on someone else."

Mourdock's victory also boosted Democrats' slim hopes for a Senate pick-up. Their nominee, Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana's 2nd District, had run unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Flash forward to Oct. 23, 2012. In a debate with Donnelly, Mourdock gave the following answer explaining why he does not support a woman's right to an abortion in the case of rape: "I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I just struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God -- that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

This ignited a controversy that roiled the entire 2012 contest, with Democrats using Mourdock’s position as a poleax to swing at multiple GOP candidates, including the Romney-Ryan ticket. Ironically, the one place his statement had little impact was the Indiana Senate race, mainly because Donnelly holds views on the matter that are, in many ways, similar. As Ann Friedman noted:

Mourdock's opponent, Democrat Joe Donnelly, also believes "life begins at conception" and opposes abortion except for cases of rape and incest or to save the life of the mother. Last year, he co-sponsored HR 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, that would have banned abortion coverage in state health-insurance exchanges. Maybe he didn't make a stupid comment about divinely inspired pregnancies as a result of rape, but he does cite his faith as a reason he opposes women's right to choose. NARAL gives him a score of only 20 percent. He voted twice to block Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding.

More importantly, the proposed No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act that Donnelly co-sponsored was extremely controversial, as its initial drafts attempted to create "a distinction between 'rape' and 'forcible rape.'" So the Democratic candidate wasn't really in a position to make use of the controversy Mourdock had touched off.

Nevertheless, Donnelly has been seeing positive signs in recent polling, enough to give him a slight lead -- 46.1 percent to 42.4 percent -- in the HuffPost Pollster model, at the time of this writing.

The Center for Responsive Politics has a list of the key contributors to each campaign.

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