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Hoosier candidates backpeddle on social issues records

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly center D-Ind. shares laugh with former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh right Thursday Aug. 23 2012 Opie's

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, center, D-Ind., shares a laugh with former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, right, on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, at Opie's Deli in Plymouth, Ind. Bayh, a former governor and U.S. Senator from Indiana, endorses Donnelly in his race against Republican nominee Richard Mourdock for the U.S. Senate seat held by Richard Lugar. (AP Photo/South Bend Tribune, James Brosher)

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Updated: August 27, 2012 10:00AM



Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” forced debate about rape and abortion to the front of the 2012 elections nationwide, but they also reminded voters that divisive issues that most politicians like to talk about only at their convenience never truly disappear.

Candidates for Indiana’s open U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office have largely avoided talk of social issues this election season, focusing instead on “jobs and the economy,” as they like to say. But Akin’s comments and subsequent clarification pushed social issues back in front of Hoosier voters.

Akin argued in an interview with a St. Louis television station that a woman’s body can prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” He later explained in a radio interview with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee that what he was really talking about was “forcible rape.”

That clarification placed the issue squarely at the center of Indiana’s two top-tier races. Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence twice sponsored legislation that would separate out “forcible rape” when it comes to federal funding of abortions.

Donnelly and Pence signed onto a 2011 bill co-sponsored by Akin, Republican vice presidential pick Paul Ryan, and almost every other House Republican, that would have redefined rape for the purposes of seeking an abortion. The Donnelly and Pence campaigns called the defining of rape in the bill something the congressmen had overlooked and said it was quickly removed from the measure once it was found.

Later in the week, it was discovered they had both signed onto a 2010 bill with the same language.

“If they think they should be making laws that deal with that issue, they ought to pay attention,” said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. “And if they’re that clueless and about the use of a term like ‘forcible’ when it comes to the issue of rape, they shouldn’t get anywhere near it.”

Neither campaign could — or would — explain why the candidates approved the language in the 2010 bill, but not the 2011 bill.

“The intent of this bill was to ensure that no federal funds would be used for abortion-related services, not to redefine rape,” Donnelly spokeswoman Elizabeth Shappell said in a statement. A Pence spokeswoman did not return a request seeking comment.

Perhaps the only major party candidate to bet heavily on social issues in this campaign has been Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, who spent much of the past year railing on Pence for not talking about his record of social conservatism in Congress. Gregg found new traction for the argument last week, airing a humorous ad that hit Pence on social issues shortly after Akin’s comments kicked all other political news to the sidelines.

“I feel like I’m a game warden. I feel like I’m chasing a leopard that’s changed its spots,” Gregg said about Pence’s congressional record. “You just can’t all of the sudden say you’re about jobs and disregard your past.”

Pence argued that Gregg’s characterization is unfair, saying he is not hiding from his beliefs, but instead has tried to talk about jobs, the economy and schools. But Pence said that focus would not keep him from approving social measures state lawmakers are likely to send his way next year.

“Let me be very clear on this, I’m pro-life. If the Legislature sends me pro-life legislation, I’ll sign it. But I think this election is about jobs and schools,” Pence said during a news conference. “People who know me know I say what I mean and I mean what I say. And people know they can count on me to stand where I’ve always stood.”

The last few sessions of the Indiana General Assembly have proved that as much as legislative leaders might want to focus on economic issues, lawmakers often have their own agendas. In a 2011 session dominated by battles over education legislation, lawmakers and Gov. Mitch Daniels blocked federal funding for Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

The session earlier this year, ostensibly dominated by labor issues and right-to-work legislation, was punctuated with battles over teaching Creationism, testing welfare recipients (and lawmakers) for drug use and rescinding specialty license plates for an Indianapolis group that works with gay youths.



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