Archives: Catholic voters are Rick Santorum’s big hope

Originally published in January 2012
Simon Nguyen

After a superb performance in the Iowa Caucus, Rick Santorum – who has based his entire campaign on wooing social conservatives – surprised some political observers by opting to campaign in socially liberal New Hampshire instead of going straight to South Carolina. Santorum, a devout Catholic, is clearly betting on the large Catholic contingent in New Hampshire to give him a boost in the voting booth.

According to CNN’s 2008 exit poll, Catholics account for 38 percent of New Hampshire’s Republican primary voters. If the former Pennsylvania senator could capture a big chunk of the Catholic vote, he has a good chance of once gain pushing Mitt Romney to the limit.

Santorum’s chief opponent in the Granite State is actually not Romney. There is currently a fierce battle between Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry for the conservative vote. In the latest Rasmussen poll, Santorum leads Gingrich and Perry in New Hampshire while narrowly trails Ron Paul for the second-place spot. If he could muster a strong performance in the Granite State, the Virginia native will come to South Carolina as the ultimate non-Romney candidate.

Whether or not Santorum will be able to win over Catholic voters in both New Hampshire and elsewhere is still a big question mark. Catholics do not always support the Catholic candidate. In the 2004 general election, they favored President George W. Bush over John Kerry, the last serious Catholic presidential candidate. Facing a slate of weak choices, however, unenthused Catholic Republicans may decide to throw all their support to either Santorum or Gingrich, who recently converted to Catholicism.

Regardless of how Santorum will ultimately fare in New Hampshire, his campaign is likely to apply the same strategy in subsequent primary states. The former U.S. senator will continue to court blue-collar voters and evangelicals, while attempt to win over Catholic voters. In a low-turnout primary contest where every vote is important, the Catholic vote could prove decisive for Santorum to catch up to Romney.

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