The shooting at Planned Parenthood put GOP 2016 hopefuls in a ‘politically uncomfortable’ position

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Robert Lewis Dear taken into custody outside the Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, Nov. 27, 2015. (Photo: Isaiah J. Downing/Reuters)

The motive for a shooting that took place outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday still isn’t clear, but all three of the top Democratic presidential candidates quickly rushed to express their support for the organization.

Meanwhile, the leading Republicans, all of whom have spoken out against Planned Parenthood, have largely remained silent about the shooting.

Operatives from both parties suggested to Yahoo News that the incident puts the GOP field in a tough spot because of its opposition to Planned Parenthood. The organization is the country’s largest provider of abortions.

Three people were killed in the shooting. One of the victims was a police officer who responded to a call for help. The suspect has been identified as Robert Lewis Dear, who was reportedly captured on the scene in Colorado Springs after surrendering to law enforcement.

According to the Associated Press, Dear had spent part of his time living in a North Carolina shack, and his neighbors described him as an incoherent loner with no known political or religious leanings. However, John Suthers, the Republican mayor of Colorado Springs, suggested people could draw conclusions about a motive for the attack by drawing “inferences from where it took place.”

President Obama issued a statement on the shooting Saturday that did not address the question of opposition to abortion as a potential motive. Instead, the president suggested that the incident is further proof of the need for stronger gun control.

“We don’t yet know what this particular gunman’s so-called motive was for shooting 12 people, or for terrorizing an entire community, when he opened fire with an assault weapon and took hostages at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado. What we do know is that he killed a cop in the line of duty, along with two of the citizens that police officer was trying to protect,” Obama said, adding, “This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal.”

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Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley: All expressed support for Planned Parenthood after the attack. (Photo: AP)

The three top Democrats vying to be Obama’s successor all addressed the shooting on Twitter. Both frontrunner Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley issued expressions of support for Planned Parenthood. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., took things a step further and suggested antiabortion rhetoric could have encouraged the attack.

“I strongly support Planned Parenthood and the work it’s doing. I hope people realize that bitter rhetoric can have unintended consequences,” Sanders wrote.

Indeed, all of the leading Republican candidates have expressed opposition to Planned Parenthood. And almost none of them have made any public comment on the shooting.

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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas: By Saturday morning, the only GOP presidential candidate to publicly send prayers. (Photo: Jim Cole/AP)

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is the only major Republican presidential hopeful who has tweeted about the incident.

“Praying for the loved ones of those killed, those injured & first responders who bravely got the situation under control in Colorado Springs,” Cruz wrote.

Yahoo News reached out to the campaigns of all of the other leading Republicans to see if they had any comment on the shootings. As of this writing, Anna Epstein, a spokeswoman for businesswoman Carly Fiorina was the only one to respond.

“Carly will be on Fox News Sunday tomorrow, and she’ll likely react then,” Epstein said.

There was no comment on the shooting from representatives for real estate mogul Donald Trump, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

All nine of these Republicans have spoken out against Planned Parenthood and expressed support for taking federal funding from the organization. Cruz has led a congressional push to defund Planned Parenthood by threatening a government shutdown.

Slideshow: Planned Parenthood shootings in Colorado >>

A Democratic operative who works in Colorado told Yahoo News they believe the shooting will hurt the GOP field because it “reminds voters of the relentless Republican campaign against women’s health and the right to choose.” They also suggested the shooting would highlight Republican opposition to gun control.

In messages to Yahoo News, Amanda Carpenter, a Republican strategist and former top aide to Cruz, acknowledged that the shooting could be “politically uncomfortable” for GOP candidates because they oppose Planned Parenthood and also abhor the violent shooting. Carpenter suggested that the candidates should have followed Cruz’s example and commented on the shooting regardless of their stance on abortion.

“Candidates can choose to avoid commenting on crisis, but a president cannot,” Carpenter said. “While it’s prudent to wait for all information, GOP candidates should easily be able to express sorrow, whether this situation is politically uncomfortable or not.”

Carpenter went on to describe the silence in the Republican field as “sad.”

“This event happened 24 hours ago, and lives were lost. It’s sad more candidates can’t show their support for those in mourning. Republicans can disagree with what PP does and grieve for those injured and killed,” she said. “Being pro-life means opposing murder, period. Law enforcement lives are at risk each day, as shown in Colorado yesterday. They need our support more than ever, and the GOP should not hesitate to give it.”

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Dear in custody. (Photo: Colorado Springs Police Department/Reuters)

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