Like most people, I thought it was impossible for Indiana's U.S. Senate campaign to get any stranger.
I was wrong.
Tuesday night at the second Senate debate, Republican Richard Mourdock touched off a national firestorm when he talked about abortion and rape. He also demonstrated why politicians rarely are renowned theological scholars.
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God," Mourdock said during the debate. "And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
After the debate, Mourdock tried to clean up the mess he'd made. He said that God obviously wouldn't be an accomplice to rape, but – well, let's let him try to explain what he meant.
"What I said is God creates life. As a person of faith I believe that," Mourdock said.
He added, "Does God want people raped? Of course not."
What I think Mourdock meant – and it's hard to know for sure when the "logic" part gets ripped this violently out of the word "theological" – is that God never would disapprove of or disavow a child, even one conceived during the most horrific circumstances.
But it really didn't matter what Mourdock mean.
His strange marriage of stridency and verbal clumsiness produced a reaction that was volcanic.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who just had done a campaign ad supporting Mourdock, sprinted faster than Usain Bolt in distancing himself from the Indiana Republican's comments.
"Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views," Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said, almost before the crowd had cleared out of the hall following the debate.
Mourdock's Democratic opponent, Joe Donnelly, weighed in at a press conference following the debate.
"Rape is a horrible crisis, an unspeakable crime, and I can't believe that my God, or any God, would intend it to happen," said Donnelly, who also opposes abortion but makes exceptions for incest, rape or when the mother's life is in danger.
State Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker was even more succinct.
"Do we need any more proof that Richard Mourdock is an extremist who's out of touch with Hoosiers?" Parker asked.
And John Gregg, the Democratic candidate for governor, couldn't wait to tie wrap Mourdock's comments around the neck of the GOP gubernatorial candidate, Mike Pence.
"I was shocked by Richard Mourdock's comments regarding survivors of rape. Rape is rape, and statements like these rub salt in the wounds of sexual assault survivors everywhere," Gregg said.
"Unfortunately this extreme way of thinking has found its way into our political discourse more and more. Hoosiers have a choice in this election between honoring the Mitch Daniels truce on social issues, and the uncompromising, Pence-Mourdock Tea Party extremism on display tonight. Congressman Pence did not stand up when Mourdock attacked Richard Lugar in the primary and he did not take a stand against Todd Akin this fall."
Akin was the Missouri congressman and U.S. Senate candidate who caused a similar controversy by arguing that women couldn't become pregnant through "forcible rape."
By Wednesday morning, Mourdock was trending number one on several search engines – a first step toward becoming a national punch line – and Pence also had to distance himself from his fellow Hoosier Republican's comments.
Pence did so with uncommon force.
"I strongly disagree with the statement made by Richard Mourdock during last night's Senate debate. I urge him to apologize," Pence said.
Mourdock didn't quite apologize.
At a Wednesday press conference, he said that he had spoken from his heart about his faith in God. He said he abhorred violence and rape. The closest he came to apologizing was when he took a shot at the people who disagreed with his statement.
He said he was sorry that so many people "mistook, twisted, came to misunderstand" what he said.
Near the end of Mourdock's brutal and successful battle to unseat Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in the Republican primary, Lugar said that Mourdock didn't have the temperament to work effectively in the Senate, a body that reveres courtesy, respect and discretion.
At the time, other Republicans distanced themselves from Lugar's comments.
Right now, I suspect Lugar is fighting the temptation to tell them, "I told you so."
John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of "No Limits" WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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