LADIES’ MAN

02.26.12

Why Rick Santorum Is Surging With Women Voters

Rick Santorum is zealously pro-life and has said birth control hurts women, but he’s surging in the polls among female voters. Patricia Murphy on the GOP’s ladies’ man.

On the campus of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich., a tour bus pulled up to the the snow-covered student union. Marilyn Musgrave, Maggie Gallagher, and other pro-life women were in the middle of a six-day bus tour to rally support for Rick Santorum in the crucial Midwestern state.

Santorum will need the help of women voters to pull off a victory on Mitt Romney’s home turf, and the women on the Leadership for Life tour say they believe he’s going to get it, despite weeks of controversy in the national press over his aggressively pro-life record, including his unapologetic opposition to abortion and past statements that contraception is “harmful to women.”

GOP strategists have openly worried that the recent focus on social issues could sink Santorum’s chances among female voters in a general election and even doom his candidacy for the nomination among Republican women. But midway through their Michigan caravan, Gallagher said she has seen just the opposite, as women turn out at Santorum rallies to show their support for the former Pennsylvania senator.

“What I think women are responding to as they get to know Rick is that he is a good man,” Gallagher said. “You don’t see guys like that in politics very much.”

She called the contraception issue in particular “political clutter” and observed that Santorum’s willingness to stand by the position that he personally opposes contraception may actually have helped him among conservative women, who are looking for a leader willing to stand their ground on issues they care about. She also said that the perception that all women are liberal and pro-choice, and so would be alienated by Santorum’s positions on social issues, is wrong.

“The political narrative that women are liberal and pro-choice may be true of half the country, but the other half really care very deeply about marriage and religious liberty, and Rick Santorum is their champion,” she said. “It’s certainly not a problem for Republican women that Rick is a faithful Catholic.”

A Washington Post–ABC News poll released Friday backs up what Gallagher says she’s seeing, namely that Sanorum’s popularity is surging among Republican women across the country. Although Mitt Romney remains the most popular candidate among GOP women, with a 61 percent favorability rating, his popularity has fallen since January, while Santorum’s approval rating among GOP women has spiked from 34 percent to 57 percent.

Santorum has also won endorsements recently from conservative women’s groups like the SBA List, which endorses pro-life candidates.

“The tide is turning in this country. More and more women are pro-life, and they’re looking for heroes on the issue,” says Musgrave, a former Colorado congresswoman who is a vice president of the SBA List. “We can always count on Rick Santorum.”

Musgrave also said that Santorum’s personal story, including his eight children, has won over numbers of women who see him as a devoted husband and father.

“They’re very drawn to the way Rick Santorum relates to his wife and children and the way he relates to Bella,” she said, speaking of Sanoturm’s youngest daughter, who has a life-threatening genetic disorder. “He has that strength of character, but he has that tenderness as he relates to his wife and his children that is just amazing.”

At Santorum’s recent campaign events and rallies, women indeed describe him as someone they connect with, mentioning Santorum’s children, his background growing up in a working-class family, and his Italian-immigrant grandfather as the elements that make him a man they can they can relate to.

“He’s genuine, very real,” Elaine Hutchings of Roswell, Ga., said this week after seeing Santorum in person for the first time. “He is heartfelt in what he wants to accomplish for the country.”

Janet Johnson of Marietta, Ga., described him as someone real, unlike most politicians, whom she could connect with far more than the other Republicans running for the nomination.

“Rick Santorum speaks to where I live,” she said after seeing him at Redeemer Church in Cumming, Ga. “I feel like he represents me.”

‘What I think women are responding to as they get to know Rick is that he is a good man.’

But while his numbers are going up nationwide, Santorum could run into a buzz saw Tuesday in Michigan, where Romney and the super PAC supporting him are outspending Santorum by a 12-to-1 margin and pulling support away from him in the process. The latest Mitchell/Rosetta poll in the state showed Romney up by six points over Santorum and broadening his lead among women from 29 percent to 28 percent in mid-February to 37 percent to 31 percent by the end of the month.

But Gallagher said she thinks the momentum is with Santorum, even among women.

“People see there’s a real human being there who gets up every morning and works hard and tries to do the right thing,” she said. “You could do a lot worse than having a husband or a son-in-law or a president like Rick Santorum.”