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Santorum Softens Pitch After Double Defeat

 

Santorum Softens Pitch After Double Defeat

“But my mom's a very unusual person for her time. She's someone who did get a college education in the 1930s, and was a nurse, and got a graduate degree, even, as a nurse, and worked full time. And when she married my dad, they worked together at the Veterans Administration. That's where they met, right after the war. And later on, they had me and the rest of the family, my brother and sister, and my mom continued to work. She worked all of my childhood years. She balanced time, as my dad did, working different schedules, and she was a very unusual person at that time. She was a professional who actually made more money than her husband.”

-- Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in his concession speech following primary losses in Michigan and Arizona.

In his concession speech on Tuesday night, Rick Santorum talked about shale oil, blue-collar America and even lifted a line from Barack Obama: “I love you back.”

But he started with an homage to working moms and his own graduate-degree-holding mother. The riff came after weeks of Santorum touting his credentials as a home-schooling parent, his wife’s commitment to their family and denouncing Obama as a “snob” for pushing America’s young people into the “indoctrination mills” of American higher education.

Exit polls in Michigan help explain the shift. Santorum trailed Michigan winner Mitt Romney by 5 points among women, but only 1 point among men.

Santorum did score with his target voters, winning voters with union households by 15 points, edging Romney among voters from low-income households and narrowly winning with voters without college degrees, yet it wasn’t enough.

We will never really know how much mischief Democrats did in the Republican race in Michigan. We know nearly one in 10 voters in the exit polls for the open primary were self-identified Democrats, which is high, but not unprecedented.

Santorum did win among these voters 53 percent to 18 percent. We also know that 28 percent of the small minority of respondents who said abortion should be legal in all cases backed Santorum, an unlikely pick, to say the least. But it’s hard to sort out because even as Michael Moore and union organizers were urging Democrats to vote for Santorum in a bid to prolong the bruising Republican primary process, Santorum was also urging Democrats to cross over to punish Romney for his opposition to the GM and Chrysler bailouts.

While there’s something clearly fishy about the 3.4 percent of the Michigan electorate that on Tuesday said they supported abortion on demand and Santorum, it’s hard to discern the intent of the 23 percent of voters from union households or the 9 percent who were Democrats. How many were target Santorum voters and how many were making mischief? Who knows?

In Arizona, an anticipated blowout loss for Santorum in a state that leans libertarian, exit polls are of limited usefulness. Once voters know their candidate is out of the running, they stay home in droves, skewing the results of the exit poll in favor of the winner.

Michigan is more useful too because of the test that lies ahead for Santorum. In six days, seven states will award delegates in primary elections and four others will hold caucuses to start their delegate selection process.

Tuesday was a big win for Romney. It looks like he will end up with a combined 46 delegates to 13 for Santorum. That would bring the new total, included estimated shares of “soft” delegates, to Romney 209, Santorum 96, Newt Gingrich 32 and Ron Paul 19.

More important, Romney has prevailed in all of his “must-win” states and takes the momentum of two victories into next week’s contests, worth a combined 466 delegates.

Santorum faces tough tasks in several of the Super Tuesday states. He didn’t make the ballot in Virginia and former suburban Atlanta congressman Gingrich should romp in Georgia while former Massachusetts Gov. Romney should trounce the field in the Bay State and neighboring Vermont. Santorum may fare better in the primaries in Oklahoma and Tennessee and in the caucus straw polls, but Ohio stands as his final proving ground.

It’s next door to Pennsylvania, the state he represented for 16 years in Congress and chock full of blue-collar, socially conservative, Catholic union members. Like Michigan, it is a quasi-open primary allowing Santorum again to target registered Democrats. Plus, with Obama backers seeing positive results from their effort to bolster Santorum, he could be in line for another 3.6 percent boost from mischief-making liberals.

If he can’t win there, it will be hard for him to argue that he remains a viable contender for the nomination.

But Ohio is also a state loaded with moderate Republicans, suburban women and college-educated voters. Santorum’s talk about being nauseated by JFK and the snobbery of higher education is a loser with these voters, and if he gets skunked with them, he can’t win the state.

And that’s why you saw the softer side of Rick Santorum on Tuesday night. It’s something Ohio voters can expect to see a lot of.


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

 

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.