(CNN) – Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus characterized a recent series of gaffes made by Republicans - concerning rape and, more recently, race - as “small brush fires” that add up to a distraction from the main issues of the election.
“You want people to be disciplined, and obviously if people misspeak and they cause, for no apparent reason, small brush fires on their own, that’s a distraction. But, overall, this is still an election about the economy,” Priebus told CNN's Candy Crowley on “State of the Union” on Sunday.
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Two GOP U.S. Senate candidates have tripped over the issue of abortion as it relates to pregnancies resulting from rape.
Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri first ignited the debate in August, when he explained to a local television station his opposition to abortions in cases of rape and what he described as the process a woman’s body goes through to terminate a pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” Akin quickly apologized for his comments, following a firestorm of criticism from both sides of the aisle, including Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who joined a powerful chorus of GOP politicians calling on Akin to bow out of the race. The embattled Senate candidate, however, vowed to continue and is currently locked in a heated battle with the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
More recently, Richard Mourdock, a Senate hopeful from Indiana, said in a debate that pregnancies that occur as a result of rape are "something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock has since apologized if his comments were misconstrued but accused Democrats of distorting his words.
Then John Sununu, a top Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire governor, told CNN’s Piers Morgan that former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Barack Obama on Thursday could be party explained by the fact that both are black.
Do these gaffes tarnish the image of the GOP?
“I don’t think any party has a monopoly on gaffes,” said Priebus. “I mean, clearly people running for office misspeak and make mistakes. I think the reality is, Candy, overwhelmingly, I promise you, people out there are not talking about what Richard Mourdock said.”
Asked if the recent missteps have the potential to “trickle up” to the top of the ticket to affect Romney’s chances of winning the White House, Priebus demurred, insisting that the two major issues of the election are the economy and the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of four Americans.
With nine days to go until Election Day, Priebus also expressed confidence in Republicans’ “ground game,” saying that while Democrats have an advantage in early voting, his party is winning in absentee ballots.
“(Democrats) are a fraction of where they were in 2008. They're not where they were in 2008. We’re far ahead of where we were in 2008. Our ground game is better than their ground game,” Priebus said. “We’re going to do more voter contacts this year compared to all of 2008 and all of 2004 combined.”
He continued: "We have an army on the ground.”
Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.