Gender Gap

Rick Santorum’s Weakness With Women Helped Him Lose Michigan Primary

The arch-conservative candidate lost every category of women polled Tuesday night, says Patricia Murphy.

Paul Sancya / AP Photo

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.

Santorum’s loss came after weeks of talking about issues that did him no favors with the moderate and independent women who voted Tuesday, including his past statements that working women had been convinced by “radical feminists” that working outside the home is the only route to happiness, that Barack Obama is a “snob” for advocating that high-school students go on to postgraduate training or college, and his opposition to contraception and abortion under any circumstances.

Although Santorum has insisted that his religious beliefs about contraception would not influence public policy, he argued Sunday that the Founders never intended a complete separation of church and state, especially on questions of morality—not an easy sell to the 39 percent of voters Tuesday who said they were moderate or liberal.

Looking at the women's vote specifically, 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.

But in a total departure from his well-worn, red-meat stump speech, Santorum began his concession Tuesday by praising his three role models, all women, so loudly that he almost sounded like one of the dreaded radical feminists he once spoke so much about.

Framed on stage by his wife, Karen, and eldest daughter, Elizabeth, he began by thanking the women who had “blessed” his life—his 93-year-old mother, his wife, and Elizabeth.

His mother, it turns out, was herself a working mom who made more money than his father. During his speech, Santorum described her as the rare woman in the 1930s, “a professional person,” who attended college and graduate school and went on to work as a nurse, including throughout his childhood.

He called Karen, his wife, “a rock” and praised her for working first as a lawyer and then as a nurse, and, after having eight children, deciding to stay home, “although she didn't quit working, obviously.”Finally, he said Elizabeth had made it a habit to go out on her own to campaign for her dad—so successfully that he said people asked only when she would come back, not when he would.Rick Santorum was humble, respectful, and deeply grateful to the women who have influenced his life—the kind of man that women in Michigan likely would have voted for in droves, if he had only shown up sometime before the race was over.