CARMEL, Ind. | Proving party loyalty trumps all, Hoosier Republicans enthusiastically greeted embattled U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock with a standing ovation at their semiannual dinner Monday night.
During his five-minute speech, Mourdock avoided even indirectly referencing his controversial remark from last week's debate that pregnancies caused by rape are "something that God intended to happen."
Instead, Mourdock focused on the need to elect him to ensure Republicans control the U.S. Senate, which he believes will determine "the direction of the United States of America."
"We want to get this victory, not so I can have a title in front of my name — I could care less about such things — but so that I might help to carry with our other great senator, Dan Coats, the ideals, the energy, the enthusiasm, the discipline, the decision-making and the willingness, yes, to take some great risks," Mourdock said.
Gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence, who immediately jumped up to shake Mourdock's hand following his speech, picked up on that theme and unabashedly declared Mourdock the essential man.
"To restore fiscal solvency to our national government, to put our national government on a pathway to encourage economic growth, president-elect Romney will need a new majority in the United States Senate and Indiana must send the 51st vote to the Senate — I urge you to endorse and support Richard Mourdock," Pence said.
It's not yet known what affect Mourdock's divine rape comments have had in his race against Democrat Joe Donnelly. An independent poll, set for release Friday and co-sponsored by The Times, is currently surveying likely Hoosier voters.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he's not sure if Mourdock can win, but is confident Mourdock's remarks aren't spilling over into other campaigns.
"I'm focused on the Statehouse races, and I don't see any trickle-down effect either way," Bosma said.
The surprise of the evening was an appearance by Gov. Mitch Daniels, who swore off politics this summer when he was elected president of Purdue University. Daniels' brief speech appeared to break his vow of "political celibacy."
"There are a lot more elected Republicans now than when we got here eight years ago, and in eight days there are going to be a lot more than that," Daniels said. "And Mike Pence is going to be a great governor."
Daniels said afterward he didn't consider his vow broken because the 850 Republicans in attendance don't need persuading to vote Republican.