GOP Catholics cool to San­to­rum

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY RACHEL ZOLL AND

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.

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