Rick Santorum and Women Voters

On February 28, the day after the Michigan primary, there were a number of news stories about Rick Santorum’s problem with women. In fact, Santorum lost the Michigan primary by 3 points and he lost women voters to Romney by 5 points. If he had done better with women, Santorum would have been the winner. Patricia Murphy at The Daily Beast wrote:

Female voters in Michigan spoke out Tuesday night, but they weren’t singing Rick Santorum’s tune. The former Pennsylvania senator lost the Michigan primary to Mitt Romney by 3 points due in large part to his weakness among Michigan women. Although Santorum lost among Michigan men by just 1 point, he lost the women’s vote by a full 6-point margin, leaving him well behind Romney and unable to close the gap with male voters in any way.

Not only did he lose among women voters, Santorum lost in every female demographic group.

Santorum lost every category of women polled Tuesday night, including working women, single women, and married women. He lost working women by 4 points, single women by 7 points, and married women by 3 points.

Of course it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that women are wary of Santorum. He has repeatedly talked about his opposition to abortion and birth control and his belief that feminists have fooled women into going to college and building careers instead of staying home and home-schooling the children who results from their many pregnancies.

Either Santorum spontaneously remembered that women can vote or his advisers reminded him before he gave his post-Michigan concession speech, because Santorum really laid it on thick about how much he respects women and how many “strong” women he has known and loved.

“I grew up with a very strong mom, someone who was a professional person who taught me a lot of things about [sic] how to balancing work and family, and doing it well, and doing it with a big heart and commitment,” he said. He also praised her for getting a college education in the 1930s and eventually a graduate degree in nursing.

“She worked all of my childhood years. She balanced time, as my dad did, working different schedules, and she was a very unusual person at that time,” Santorum said. “She was a professional who actually made more money than her husband.”

Clearly this was a deliberate change in strategy. Santorum’s advisers even spoke to the Washington Post about their plans to shift gears.

Rick Santorum does not plan to abandon the fiery Christian rhetoric or the shoestring campaign that got him to where he is today. But as a slate of high-stakes Republican presidential primaries approaches, he is being forced to shift his strategy to beat back perceptions that he is obsessed with controversial social issues and harbors outdated ideas about women.

The shift will test Santorum’s skills as a candidate as well as his bare-bones campaign operation, which is struggling to match his status as a top-tier candidate. The operation’s priority this week is to hold on to the candidate’s lead in polls in Ohio, which will vote on Tuesday.

Although Santorum sought to spin the Michigan results as a tie, it is clear that the contest revealed a significant challenge for him. He has been outspoken about contraception, abortion and his wife’s decision to leave her career as a lawyer to home-school their seven children….in at least three speeches in recent days, he has made appeals to women, recalling not only his wife’s career, but also that of his 93-year-old mother. On Wednesday, in Tennessee, he described his daughter Elizabeth as “one of the great women” in his life.

Santorum staffers also emphasized that there are women in senior positions in the campaign.

But as Rebecca Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University told the Chicago Tribune, he “threw us a symbolic bone by saying, ‘Hey, I think my mom was great.'”

“It is one thing if it’s one statement, it’s another thing if it’s a broad range of statements that tap into the same problem and that’s where Rick Santorum finds himself,” Lawless says.

Not only is Santorum alienating women writ-large, she adds, but conservative women as well.

“In a lot of ways, the discussion about women’s roles and traditional family arrangements and the use of contraception have taken us back many, many decades,” Lawless says.

Despite his campaign’s recognition of the problem, it may not be possible to right the ship, she adds.

I honestly didn’t think Santorum could carry this off, because he just can’t seem to stop himself from lecturing us all about his 13th century ideas about women’s roles. And it looks like I was right. Santorum appeared on two of the Sunday morning shows and failed to steer the discussion away from social issues or reach out to women in any way.

On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Santorum about the defeat of the Blunt amendment, and the former senator actually used the words “grievous moral wrong” in reference to contraception.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum says an amendment put forward by Senate Republicans that would have allowed any business to exclude contraceptives from health care plans was not really about birth control.

“The Blunt amendment was broader than that,” Santorum told Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday. “It was a conscience clause exception that existed prior to when President Obama decided that he could impose his values on people of faith, when people of faith believe that this is a grievous moral wrong.”

Wallace asked Santorum if he truly believed that 99% of American women have “done something wrong.”

“I’m reflecting the views of the Church that I believe in,” the former Pennsylvania senator replied. “We used to be tolerant of those beliefs. I guess now when you have beliefs that are consistent with the church, you are somehow out of touch with the mainstream. And that to me is a pretty sad situation when you can’t have personally-held beliefs.”

Although Santorum recently has been claiming that he doesn’t plan to impose his 19th century views on the rest of us, it’s important to keep in mind that he said in an October 2011 interview with a religious blog, Caffeinated Thoughts, that he would “repeal all federal funding for contraception.” In addition, he has repeatedly said that he does not believe in separation of church and state.

On Chris Matthews’ show Santorum apparently sidestepped a question about Rush Limbaugh and repeated much of what he had told Chris Wallace at Fox.

Right now, Santorum and Romney are “neck and neck” in Ohio. How will Ohio women vote after a couple more days of being preached at by true believer Rick Santorum? My guess is women’s votes will decide Ohio just as they did Michigan.