Democrats have reaped what Republicans sowed when it came to abortion, with Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana winning what was once seen as a safe Republican Senate seat.
Donnelly eked out a victory Tuesday night against GOP state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, aiding Democrats in their effort to keep control of the Senate. With 70 percent of precincts reporting, NBC News called the race with Donnelly leading Mourdock 48 percent to 46 percent.
The battle for the open Senate seat was an uphill challenge for Donnelly, who has represented the Hoosier state’s Republican-leaning 2nd Congressional District since 2007. He was undoubtedly aided in an October debate when Mourdock said pregnancies that result from rape are "something God intended to happen."
Democrats' pickup of the Indiana seat would've been nearly impossible before Mourdock defeated six-term incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in an ugly GOP primary fight. Lugar is an institution in Indiana politics, and without him in the picture, Democrats saw an opportunity.
Donnelly is the rare moderate Democrat who survived the 2010 election. He has one of the most moderate voting records in the Democratic Caucus—he is more liberal than 45.3 percent of the House, according to the most recent National Journal vote rankings.
Mourdock’s gaffe on abortion and rape came shortly after GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared in a Murdock ad, one of the few Romney made for congressional candidates this cycle. Romney’s campaign did not retract the spot, despite withering critiques from Democrats. The incident did force the Romney campaign to say that Romney did not agree with Mourdock’s comments.
Mourdock was the second of two Republican Senate candidates to stumble after making comments on abortion and rape. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., seriously hamstrung his own race against Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., when he said that women's bodies have the ability to prevent pregnancy from a “legitimate rape.”
The root of Republican candidates’ comments on rape and abortion can be partly traced to House votes Republicans held soon after they took the majority in 2010. One such vote came on a bill from Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., which originally narrowed the definition of rape to only include “forcible rape,” excluding women in statutory rape cases, among others.
After a skewering in the media (including The Daily Show With Jon Stewart), Republican leaders quietly removed that provision from the bill in February. Three months later, the House passed the legislation 251 to 175.
Donnelly ran on a platform of representing middle-class families and had the backing of other moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Donnelly vowed to crack down on “unfair” trade deals that send American jobs overseas, and specifically vowed to go after China for practices that move Indiana manufacturing jobs out of the state.
Donnelly also pushed American energy production, pledging to pull from all of Indiana’s natural resources—from coal to oil to wind—to bring jobs to the state.