Rick Santorum: Women Like Him, They Really Like Him

Has the current second place GOP hopeful finally arrived at his Sally Field moment?

Six weeks ago, many media outlets were almost gleefully writing about Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and his “woman problem.” Talking Points Memo wrote, “Santorum has a history of saying anti-feminist things that go beyond the mainstream.” There are, of course, differing opinions on what it means to be a feminist and one could argue that the current ideological makeup of the country makes a conservative like Santorum more mainstream than, say, the writers at Talking Points Memo. Regardless, Santorum’s comments on his personal and religious beliefs had many predicting a swift demise for his candidacy.

Fast-forward to the end of March and Rick Santorum seems to not only not have a woman problem, but his popularity among women is on the rise. A slew of recent polls show him besting his Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich when it comes to the affections of women, who are very likely this election cycle’s most important voting bloc. According to Politico:

"In 2012, Santorum’s strength with women voters was first demonstrated in Iowa, and the trend continued through Southern states. Exit polls show he won among women in Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Even in states where he didn’t win the primary, Santorum performed well among women: In Ohio, for example, where Mitt Romney won the popular vote, Santorum still won married women by 4 points."

There are obvious reasons for Santorum’s rise in popularity among women: As his delegate count increases, so does his visibility. He is the only viable “non-Romney” candidate left.

The presences on the campaign trail of his Santorum's wife, Karen, and his children have been a boon to Santorum’s public image and this has resonated with conservative women. Family comes first to most women and seeing this played out on the presidential campaign trail instills a sense of confidence that Santorum has his priorities straight. Conservative women place great importance on traditional family values and the Santorum clan exude this. Personally and politically, his close-knit family is Rick Santorum’s biggest asset.

A less obvious reason for Santorum’s surge in popularity with women, which some may find paradoxical, is the so-called “war on women.” During the backlash against the Obama administration’s mandate that religious institutions provide products and services that go against their moral convictions, which was dishonestly framed by many as a “war on women,” Santorum was open about his personal belief system. He also rightly decried the administration’s trampling of religious freedom. His willingness to stand strong on social issues clearly resonates with a great many women. It also differentiates him from Mitt Romney, who is somewhat less open and consistent in articulating his beliefs.

During the “war on women” kerfuffle, Santorum was taken to task for things he has said and written that some deliberately misinterpreted to mean he was not in favor of women in the workplace. NBC’s David Gregory rather ridiculously asked him if he’d only allow single women to work for him at the White House if elected president. Santorum responded, “We’re going to look at the best-qualified people and there will be plenty of working moms who will be in our administration and be adding greatly to the conservative cause I believe in.” And this position is borne out in the make-up of his campaign staff, which includes both married and single women, many of who serve in senior roles. Apparently, the Stone Age was a time of great empowerment for women!

Perhaps the best explanation of all for Santorum’s popularity with women can be found in, of all places, The New York Times. In a recent article, Times writer Susan Saulny states:

"In fact, Mr. Santorum’s campaign theme of late, 'Freedom,' resonates among conservative women who believe that less regulation would benefit the economy, a main concern, and keep the government from having a heavy hand in health care decision-making."

That sums it up very nicely. Conservative women have been a leading force in the conservative grassroots resurgence of the last three years. Freedom is their frequent battle cry: Freedom to make the best choices for the families, freedom from an over-encroaching government, freedom to make their own health care decisions, freedom for their children to grow into adulthood without being burdened with government-borne debt, freedom to live in a country that respects individual liberty. If Santorum keeps beating that same drum, he is likely to see an even bigger uptick in support from women. Will this result in a presidential nomination? Only time will tell.

Teri Christoph is the co-founder of Smart Girl Politics, a non-profit organization for conservative women, and co-chair of She-PAC, a hybrid PAC supporting conservative women candidates. Follow her on Twitter: @TeriChristoph.

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