Catholic Voters in Many States Shy Away from Preachy Santorum

By Zito, Salena | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 11, 2012 | Go to article overview

Catholic Voters in Many States Shy Away from Preachy Santorum


Zito, Salena, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


As a devout Mormon, Mitt Romney was the presidential candidate who experts anticipated could have a problem with winning over Roman Catholic voters.

Instead, exit polling from recent primaries shows Rick Santorum, a staunch Catholic who often references his religion as a factor in his political views, is winning far less of the Catholic vote than Romney. The former senator from Pennsylvania has yet to achieve outright victory among Catholics in any state for which data are available, according to Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life analysis.

"He comes across as too righteous to resonate with the majority of the electorate, in my humble opinion. He complicates the message," said Joe O'Rourke, 39, a practicing Catholic from Houston who books hotel rooms for oil and gas industry workers. In 2004, O'Rourke took a leave of absence to volunteer for President Bush's re-election campaign in Pennsylvania.

Kristi Storti, 40, a Catholic from Cranberry, finds Santorum's conviction refreshing.

"There are too many people that claim to be Catholic and are not practicing or are two-timers, only go to church at Christmas or Easter," Storti said. "They do not follow the Catholic dialogue or doctrine. I think Santorum reminds them of this. These are the people who are likely turning away from him."

Data that Pew compiled using CNN exit polling from last week's Super Tuesday contests show Catholics preferred Romney in Ohio and Massachusetts, where he was governor. Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a recent Catholic convert, divided the Catholic vote in Georgia; Romney and Santorum split the Catholic vote in Tennessee. The data did not include U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whose campaign largely focuses on caucus states.

Romney gets less support from voters for whom it's important to have a candidate who shares their religious beliefs, the Pew analysis showed. In Ohio, Santorum edged Romney 40 percent to 36 percent among voters who attach at least some importance to sharing religious beliefs with a candidate. Protestants' and evangelicals' voting preferences varied.

A Rasmussen survey of likely Republican voters released on Friday showed a three-way tie between Gingrich, Santorum and Romney in Alabama. In Mississippi, Rasmussen found Romney leading those two rivals by 8 percentage points, with 35 percent. Both states will hold primaries on Tuesday.

Among Catholics, Santorum's message could be put to the test again in Illinois on March 20 and in later contests in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, said Burt Rockman, a political science professor at Purdue University in Indiana. In earlier primaries, CNN exit polling showed Romney won the Catholic vote in New Hampshire, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan and Florida. …

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