Indiana Senate candidates Democrat Joe Donnelly, left, and Republican… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)
In what appears to be fallout from Richard Mourdock’s statement last month that pregnancies that result from rape are “something that God intended to happen,” a new poll shows him trailing his Democratic opponent in the Indiana Senate race by 11 percentage points.
A Howey/DePauw poll conducted by Republican pollster Christine Matthews and Democratic pollster Fred Yang found that a large majority of likely voters – 87% -- were aware of Mourdock’s remark about rape and pregnancy, and 40% said they were less likely to vote for him as a result.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly now leads Mourdock, 47% to 36%, according to the poll, which was conducted Oct. 28-30, shortly after Mourdock’s Oct. 23 remark. That’s a dramatic slide in a race that had been deadlocked for months.
Mourdock, the Republican state treasurer who roused tea party supporters to oust longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in the GOP primary earlier this year, had already been struggling to win over moderate voters. And he was having trouble with some Republicans, many of whom were sore over his challenge to the elder statesman Lugar.
A Howey poll conducted less than six weeks earlier found Donnelly with a slight lead, 40% to 38%, but within the margin of error. The first Howey poll, in late March, had the two candidates tied at 35%.
The new Howey poll showed that Mourdock is still struggling within his own party – he had just 70% support among Republicans. Half of independents now view him unfavorably. And just 17% said they supported him while 51% supported Donnelly. The September poll found the candidates splitting the independent vote.
Mourdock has consistently dismissed the Howey poll, which found Lugar with a 7-point lead one month before the GOP primary. A later poll, taken in the days leading up to the primary, found Mourdock leading Lugar, 48% to 38%. Mourdock went on to win by a convincing 61% to 39%.
His campaign released an internal poll Friday that showed Mourdock leading, 46% to 44%.
Mourdock’s deputy campaign manager, Brose McVey, said voters should be skeptical of the Howey poll, and called on the pollsters to release their raw data.
But a new Rasmussen poll, which typically leans Republican, also found Donnelly gaining on Mourdock. That poll, conducted on Monday, had Donnelly leading 45% to 42%, but within the 4-point margin of error. A Rasmussen poll from early October had Mourdock leading, 47% to 42%.
The latest independent polling data from Howey and Rasmussen suggests that Mourdock’s comments about rape and pregnancy might have nailed shut a race that had already become too close for Republicans’ comfort.
In the GOP’s quest to take control of the Senate, Lugar’s seat had barely been considered in play until Mourdock won the primary. Even then, Mourdock was considered the favorite in a state where fellow Republicans Mitt Romney and gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence were expected to coast to victory.
But Mourdock’s strategy of stoking the tea party vote, while it won him the GOP nomination, allowed Democrats to cast him as extreme. Just hours into the general election campaign, Mourdock announced on TV that “bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view” and that “the highlight of politics” is to “inflict my opinion on someone else.”
Asked about those remarks during an interview last month with the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau, Mourdock said his comments were taken out of context. The statement about inflicting his opinion on others, Mourdock said, was a bit of Hoosier humor that Democrats had twisted to use against him.
“I have used this joke for 10 years when I speak to audiences,” Mourdock said. “I make a joke and I say, ‘You know, I enjoy doing this, I enjoy talking about political issues. I love to inflict my opinion on others.’ And people laugh.”
Mourdock felt similarly misunderstood after the firestorm that erupted over his comments on rape and pregnancy. He made the statement in the final minutes of a debate after he was asked his position on abortion.
"I know there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view, but I believe that life begins at conception," he said. "The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother.
"I've struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God," he continued. "And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
Mourdock later said that people “mistook” and “twisted” his words.
If the Howey poll is any indication, the comments played into the narrative that Democrats had been building about Mourdock. One-third of respondents said the word “extreme” applied to Mourdock, up from 18% who said the same in a September poll.