INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock refused to apologize Wednesday for saying that rape resulting in pregnancy is "something God intended."
State Republicans and a few congressional leaders defended Mourdock, whose prospects of winning the seat long held by the GOP are unclear.
But with women voters critical in the tight presidential race and other stalemated contests two weeks before Election Day, many in the party distanced themselves with varying levels of abruptness and clarity, underscoring the difficult nature of the uproar even among other anti-abortion Republicans.
Indiana gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence sought an apology from Mourdock. Indiana House candidate Jackie Walorski, meanwhile, issued three statements Wednesday: two disagreeing with Mourdock and one suggesting Republicans get back to talking about President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul.
That didn't happen Wednesday as the issue ricocheted around the nation's political landscape, from the presidential contest on down.
Mourdock, meanwhile, dove into damage control Wednesday, explaining that he abhors violence of any kind and regrets that some may have misconstrued and "twisted" his comments. But he stood behind the original remark in Tuesday night's debate.
"I spoke from my heart. And speaking from my heart, speaking from the deepest level of my faith, I would not apologize. I would be less than faithful if I said anything other than life is precious, I believe it's a gift from God," Mourdock said at a news conference Wednesday.
GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's campaign quickly said he disagrees with Mourdock, but did not cancel a television ad in which Romney endorses him. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte canceled an event scheduled for Wednesday with Mourdock. But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. John Cornyn issued statements of support, acutely aware that Mourdock's fortunes in Indiana could hold the key to winning control of the Senate. Republicans must gain four seats if President Barack Obama is re-elected, three if Romney prevails.
In Indiana, it wasn't supposed to be this way. Mourdock's upset of veteran Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in the May primary created an opening for Democrats looking to fight for what would have otherwise been a safe GOP seat. The surprisingly close race between Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly has spurred national Republicans to send more money and national stars to Indiana recently in an attempt to hold the seat.
Ayotte canceled plans to headline a fundraiser for Mourdock in Indianapolis, but the Indianapolis Republican Women Club pushed on with the fundraiser. Speaking inside the closed-door event, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb declined to comment on Mourdock's explanation Wednesday and said the loss of Ayotte from the trail Wednesday would not slow their efforts to elect Mourdock.
"I think we're moving full steam ahead," he said.