Suddenly, the wedge issue of abortion is roiling the campaign again, and President Obama has jumped into the fray big time.
The fallout, Democrats say, could solidify Obama's support among women voters and motivate many women to turn out for him at the polls on Election Day.
What triggered the new focus on abortion were comments by Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, that pregnancy is "something that God intended to happen" even if it resulted from rape.
Mourdock comments caused a firestorm of criticism, with Democrats denouncing his remarks as outrageous, out of touch, and insensitive, and some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, calling on Mourdock to apologize. Mourdock subsequently said his statement is being misinterpreted and distorted. The Obama campaign called on Romney to withdraw his earlier endorsement of Mourdock, but Romney has declined.
Obama condemned Mourdock's comments Wednesday night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The president said, "Rape is rape. It is a crime. And so, these various distinctions about rape and, you know, don't make too much sense to me, don't make any sense to me. The second thing this underscores, though: This is exactly why you don't want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women's health care decisions. Women are capable of making these decisions in consultation with their partners, with their doctors."
He added: "This is obviously a part of what's at stake in this election. You've got a Supreme Court that, you know, typically a president is going to have probably another couple of appointments during the course of his term. And you know, Roe vs. Wade [the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion] is probably hanging in the balance."
Obama's campaign called on Republican challenger Mitt Romney to withdraw his endorsement of Mourdock. Romney's spokesman said the candidate doesn't share Mourdock's views on abortion but didn't withdraw the endorsement. Obama aides also said the controversy shows how out of touch many Republicans are regarding issues of women' s health.
Mourdock's full comment was, "I struggled with it, myself, for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, it is something that God intended to happen."
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He has written five books, most recently Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.