WASHINGTON — Just as Mitt Romney and other Republicans had cut into the Democrats’ advantage with female voters, a Tea Party-backed Senate candidate’s awkward remark — that if rape leads to pregnancy it’s ‘‘something God intended’’ — has propelled the emotional issue of abortion back to the political forefront. It has put GOP candidates in tight races, from the presidential candidate on down, on the defensive.
Divisive social issues are hardly what most GOP candidates want to be discussing in the few days remaining until elections largely hinging on jobs and the economy. Almost immediately after Richard Mourdock’s comment, Republican candidates distanced themselves from the Indiana state treasurer — though by varying degrees.
“It’s not what I believe,” Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts said after a campaign stop with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in Watertown, Mass. “I’m a prochoice Republican, and that is not what I believe, and I disagree with what he said.
Asked if he wants to see Mourdock elected, Brown said: “It’s up to the people of Indiana, certainly.”
Brown’s Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren, weighed in on the topic Tuesday night, tweeting that, “Richard Mourdock’s comments are more proof that a GOP-controlled Senate would be a disaster for women.”
The Romney campaign said Wednesday that the presidential nominee disagreed with Mourdock but stood by his endorsement of the Senate candidate. There were no plans to drop a Romney testimonial ad for Mourdock that began airing in Indiana Monday.
Mourdock’s comment in a Tuesday night debate came in answer to a question on when abortion should or should not be allowed. Said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul: ‘‘We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest but still support him.’’
Connecticut Linda McMahon, bidding for the GOP Senate seat there, called Mourdock’s remarks ‘‘highly inappropriate and offensive. They don’t reflect my beliefs as a woman or a pro-choice candidate.’’
Mourdock’s debate comment recalled GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remark in August about rape and pregnancy.
The Missouri congressman said women’s bodies have ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of ‘‘legitimate rape.’’ Republicans, led by Romney, called for Akin to abandon the race, but he refused and is pressing ahead against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.
Globe staff reporter Michael Levenson contributed to this