GOP Catholics cool to Santorum
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO | Rick Santorum’s focus on the role faith has played in his public and private life has paid off with evangelical voters, who have fueled the former senator’s surge toward the top of the Republican presidential field. But Mr. Santorum’s fellow Catholics, it seems, still have their doubts.
Across all states where Republican primary voters were asked their religion in exit polls, Mitt Romney, a Mormon, trounced Mr. Santorum among Catholics, with an average margin of victory of more than 20 percentage points. Even in Southern states, where Mr. Romney has struggled, Catholics broke his way.
On Sunday, overwhelmingly Catholic Puerto Rico was holding its primary, and both Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney have reached out to the island’s Catholics for support.
Catholics haven’t voted as a bloc in decades, leading analysts to declare “the Catholic vote” as such doesn’t exist. Still, the results are surprising.
Known for attending Mass almost daily, Mr. Santorum organized a Catholic study group for lawmakers when he served in Congress, has fought abortion and defended traditional marriage. He cites his faith for his support for humanitarian work, such as financing programs that fight AIDS in Africa. He has home-schooled his seven children and sent some to private schools affiliated with the Catholic movement Opus Dei. Mr. Santorum has said that during his youth, his parents expected him to attend church every Sunday without fail.
“You had to basically be dead not to go,” he said in a 2005 interview with the New York Times.
Religious identity is not as much of a consideration for Catholic voters as it is for members of some other faiths.
Only 1 in 5 Catholics on average said it mattered “a great deal” that a candidate share their religious beliefs, compared with one-third of non-catholics in exit polls that asked the question.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also Catholic, on average trails Mr. Santorum among Catholics.
“Just being Catholic by no means buys you anything in the Catholic vote anymore,” said Mark Gray, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate who specializes in American Catholics. there,” the candidate said on ABC’S “This Week” on Sunday.
With 1,144 delegates needed to claim the nomination, the win in Puerto Rico puts Mr. Romney’s delegate haul at 521. Mr. Santorum is second with 253, Newt Gingrich has 136 and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has 50, according to the Associated Press.
With 44 percent of the ballots counted, Mr. Romney received 83 percent of the territory’s vote to Mr. Santorum’s 8 percent, Mr. Gingrich’s 2 percent and Mr. Paul’s 1 percent. Because Mr. Romney won a majority, Puerto Rican election officials said he would receive all 20 pledged delegates.
The wire service reported that voter turnout was light on the predominantly Catholic island, with officials predicting that about 150,000 people cast ballots.
Francisco Rodriguez, a 76-year-old architect, told the AP he was backing Mr. Romney in part because “he has a stronger connection to Puerto Rico and that will help us in the process of becoming a state.”
He had kind words for Mr. Santorum, describing him as a “person of faith, a good Catholic.” But he said he thinks the former senator hurt himself with his statements that English would have to be the official language if the U.S. territory were to seek statehood.
“In Puerto Rico, we get along fine with both languages,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
After Tuesday’s contest in Illinois, the battleground shifts to Saturday’s primary in Louisiana.