Discuss as:

Rape remarks sink two Republican Senate hopefuls

Whitney Curtis / Getty Images

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill greets supporters during an election night party in St. Louis on Tuesday.

Democrats prevailed against Republicans in two U.S. Senate races in which abortion and controversial remarks about rape played a pivotal role.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri — who set off a firestorm after using the phrase “legitimate rape” — and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock — who said, “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen” — were projected to lose their Senate races, NBC News reported on Tuesday.

Their Democratic  rivals, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and Indiana U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, are the projected winners.

Sen. Claire McCaskill wins re-election in Missouri, beating Rep. Todd Akin who came under fire for saying women had ways of preventing pregnancies in the case of "legitimate rape."

“This is a race Republicans were counting on winning,” NBC News' Andrea Mitchell said of Mourdock’s projected loss.  “This is a pickup for the Democrats, and a very important one.”

Indeed, early on in the campaign Republicans had McCaskill, 59, in their sights as a seat to pick up.

Michael Conroy / AP

Democrat Joe Donnelly, right, takes the stage in front of former Sen. Evan Bayh, after winning the U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday.

That seemed a fair possibility until August, when Akin, 65, was asked in a TV interview whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape. "From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare,” he replied. “If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Akin ignored calls to quit the race from Republicans, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney and all five living Republicans who had represented Missouri in the U.S. Senate.

Akin later apologized, saying his comment was “ill conceived and wrong.” He also explained that he opposes abortion in cases of women who become pregnant after being raped because "rape is a tragedy, and I don't think it helps the first tragedy to add a second tragedy to it.”

Abortion was also an issue in the Indiana Senate campaign. When Tea-Party backed Mourdock, who had defeated six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary, was asked about his opposition to abortion in all cases except when the mother’s life is endangered by the pregnancy, he left an opening for the moderate Democratic congressman Donnelly, 57, to pick up the seat.

Todd Akin says that called Claire McCaskill to concede after being defeated in the Missouri Senate race.

"I struggled with it myself for a long time, Mourdock, 61, said. “But I came to realize 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."

Donnelly's projected victory comes in a state Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was projected to win.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Campaigning with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, voting and election results.

Mourdock later attempted to clarify his remarks, saying he did not think God intended for rape to happen, but by then Democrats were already targeting his seat. For his part, Lugar stayed out of the race and never campaigned for Mourdock.

More election coverage from NBCNews.com:

Follow NBC Politics on Twitter and Facebook