INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock refused to apologize Wednesday for saying that pregnancy in cases of rape is “something that God intended to happen

State Republicans and a few congressional leaders defended Mourdock, whose prospects of winning the seat long held by Republicans are unclear.

But with female voters critical in the tight presidential race and other stalemated contests two weeks before Election Day, many in the party distanced themselves with varying levels of abruptness and clarity, underscoring the difficult nature of the uproar even among other anti-abortion Republicans.

Mourdock, during the final minutes of a debate Tuesday night with Democratic challenger Rep. Joe Donnelly, was explaining his opposition to abortion in cases of rape or incest when he said: “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Indiana gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence sought an apology from Mourdock. Indiana House candidate Jackie Walorski, meanwhile, issued three statements Wednesday: two disagreeing with Mourdock and one suggesting that Republicans get back to talking about President Obama’s health care overhaul.

That didn’t happen Wednesday as the issue ricocheted around the nation’s political landscape, from the presidential contest on down.

Mourdock, meanwhile, dove into damage control Wednesday, explaining that he abhors violence of any kind and regrets that some may have misconstrued and “twisted” his comments. But he stood behind the original remark.

“I spoke from my heart. And speaking from my heart, speaking from the deepest level of my faith, I would not apologize. I would be less than faithful if I said anything other than life is precious, I believe it’s a gift from God,” Mourdock said at a news conference Wednesday.

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s campaign quickly said he disagrees with Mourdock’s initial remarks, but Romney did not cancel a television ad in which he endorses the Senate candidate. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte canceled an event scheduled for Wednesday with Mourdock.

But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. John Cornyn issued statements of support, acutely aware that Mourdock’s fortunes in Indiana could hold the key to winning control of the Senate. Republicans must gain four seats if Obama is re-elected, three if Romney prevails.

In Indiana, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Mourdock’s upset of veteran Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in the May primary created an opening for Democrats looking to fight for what would have otherwise been a safe GOP seat. The surprisingly close race between Mourdock and Donnelly has spurred national Republicans to send more money and national stars to Indiana recently in an attempt to hold the seat.

Mourdock’s rape comment seemed to fall a few steps short of Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s comment earlier this summer that a woman’s body would block against pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape,” both in terms of the comment itself and its potential impact in the race.

A Democratic source tracking ad buys nationally said Wednesday there was no effort from Mourdock supporters to pull out of the state, as there was in Missouri after Akin’s comments.

Democrats tried to capitalize on the remarks Wednesday, holding media calls and news conferences and cutting Web ads tying Romney to Mourdock. Donnelly appeared in downtown Indianapolis in front of the Julian Center, which counsels victims of rape, sex trafficking and abuse.

“It is hurtful to women, to survivors of rape and to their families,” Donnelly said. “His words were extreme, but more important, hurtful to victims of sexual abuse.”

Downtown Indianapolis workers taking their lunch break in the warm October sunshine for the most part said they didn’t think Mourdock meant his remark the way it sounded, but they hadn’t intended to vote for him anyway. Most said they hadn’t watched the debate but had heard the buzz about what Mourdock said.

“It came across as that’s God’s will for that woman to be raped,” said Judy Stratom, a 50-year-old administrative worker. “I don’t think that’s what he meant, but that’s the way the world took it.”