Santorum left at the altar by fellow Catholics

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 7, 2012 8:53pm EST

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum greets supporters at his Super Tuesday primary election night rally in Steubenville, Ohio, March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum greets supporters at his Super Tuesday primary election night rally in Steubenville, Ohio, March 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Matt Sullivan

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rick Santorum has put his Catholic faith front and center as he courts religious conservatives in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. That may be hurting his chances with a crucial group of voters: his fellow Catholics.

Santorum has lost the Catholic vote consistently in states that have held nominating contests so far, exit polls show.

The pattern underscores Santorum's continued inability to broaden his appeal beyond a core of voters, mostly evangelical Protestants, who place social issues like abortion and gay marriage at the top of the agenda.

Santorum's staunch opposition to birth control and gay marriage may line up with church doctrine, but could alienate Catholic voters who typically make up their own minds on such matters, analysts say.

"It's not easy to describe the typical Catholic anymore. We've always traditionally been the big tent that included people of all stripes," said Thomas Reese, director of the Woodstock Theological Center, a Jesuit research institute affiliated with Georgetown University.

Politically, Catholics are as diverse as the country as a whole. Some 36 percent describe themselves as conservatives, 16 percent as liberal and 38 percent as moderate, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

President Barack Obama won 55 percent of the Catholic vote in the 2008 election, nearly identical to his margin among the population as a whole.

Catholic voters are split evenly on whether abortion should be illegal and whether the government should do more to protect morality, the research group found.

Despite church teachings against birth control, some 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women of child-bearing age have used contraception at some point, according to a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute.

SEVEN CHILDREN

Santorum isn't the only Catholic candidate in the battle to win the Republican nomination and face Obama in the November 6 election. Newt Gingrich has described how his 2009 conversion to Catholicism has helped him find a new spiritual peace, and he and his wife, Callista, have made a documentary about former Pope John Paul II.

Santorum has made his faith a central part of his candidacy. On the campaign trail, his seven children provide a visual reminder of his opposition to birth control. He has made common cause with Catholic bishops who oppose the Obama administration's new plan to require health insurers to cover contraception.

That uncompromising stance appeals to some Catholics.

"I feel Santorum has better moral clarity than the other candidates," said Ohio Wesleyan University student Marissa Alfano, a Catholic who cited the birth-control controversy as a reason for her support.

But so far, Mitt Romney - a Mormon - has had the most success with Catholic voters.

Romney has won the Catholic vote in eight of 10 states for which exit-poll data is available, often winning a bigger margin among Catholics than among the electorate as a whole.

Gingrich won the Catholic vote in his South Carolina victory, while Santorum narrowly won Catholics in Tennessee on Tuesday.

Santorum didn't help his cause when he said that President John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech calling for separation of church and state made him want to "throw up." Santorum has since said he regretted criticizing the Catholic icon.

As the results came in on Tuesday night, Santorum hunkered down in Steubenville, Ohio, a small city that is home to Franciscan University, a Catholic college with a conservative reputation.

At the rally, George Houston, a theology student at the school, said he wasn't thrilled with Santorum, or any of the other candidates.

"They're all imperfect. You have to filter the good from the bad," he said.

Santorum went on to narrowly lose the state to Romney. Among Catholic voters, who accounted for one in every three voters, it wasn't even close: Romney took 44 percent, while Santorum won 31 percent.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Eric Johnson in Ohio and Sam Youngman in Massachusetts; Editing by Alistair Bell and Xavier Briand)

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Comments (14)
Catholic voters have, per polls, almost universally rejected their Bishops on the issues evangelicals are also trying to use against Obama. In addition, it’s no secret that evangelicals are very bigoted towards Catholics, and Catholics will not be unaware of this. So, Sanatorium has left his church behind in his Presidential run. The Bishops may agree with him, but actual Catholics don’t.

Mar 07, 2012 9:15pm EST  --  Report as abuse
arkbiz wrote:
I was born Catholic and I never met anyone like Santorum. There were always a few old clergy who were left over from the Ice Age, but I never saw anybody who had Santorum’s combination of inconstancy, lack of impulse control, and hate for others.

The Catholic hierarchy has got to feel like they already have enough problems and just wish Rick would retreat to a bar somewhere and nurse a scotch.

Mar 07, 2012 9:16pm EST  --  Report as abuse
coloww wrote:
Most Catholics disagree with the Popes ridiculous position against birth control. Therefor most Catholics disagree with Santorum.

Mar 07, 2012 9:42pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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