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2012-02-08

Santorum Wins GOP Contests in 3 States as Evangelical Vote Surges and Pro-Romney Spending Dips

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Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has surged in the Republican presidential contest with wins in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, as well as a nonbinding primary in Missouri. Santorum’s win appears to have been fueled by evangelical voters, emboldening his claim to be the "true conservative" in the Republican race. The contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri notably differed from earlier states in the absence of a flood of spending backing front-runner Mitt Romney. We get reaction to Santorum’s victories from Michael Brendan Dougherty of Business Insider and The American Conservative and Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Rick Santorum shook up the Republican race Tuesday with victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. Santorum’s success comes after a week where he campaigned hard against a new Obama administration rule requiring health insurance plans, including those provided by Catholic-affiliated hospitals and universities, to offer free birth control methods.

The issue could become a significant factor in the 2012 race. Already, the Obama administration is considering backing away from the rule change. The New York Times reports today the administration is exploring ways to make it palatable to religious-affiliated institutions, perhaps by allowing some employers to make side insurance plans available that are not directly paid for by the institutions.

In his victory speech in St. Charles, Missouri, Rick Santorum, who is Catholic, denounced the Obama policy.

RICK SANTORUM: When government gives you rights, the government can tell you how to exercise those rights. And we saw that, just in the last week, with a group of people, a small group of people, just Catholics in the United States of America, who were told, "You have a right to healthcare, but you will have the healthcare that we tell you you have to give your people, whether it is against the teachings of your church or not." I never thought, as a first-generation American, whose parents and grandparents loved freedom and came here because they didn’t want the government telling them what to believe and how to believe it, that we had a First Amendment that actually stood for freedom of conscience, that we’d have a president of the United States who would roll over that and impose his secular values on the people of this country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Rick Santorum, during his victory speech last night in Missouri. Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have also been very critical of the provision, which has been condemned by the Catholic Church. Campaigning Tuesday in Colorado, former Massachusetts Governor Romney said the decision violated the religious conscience of Catholic organizations.

MITT ROMNEY: And then, a real blow, and particularly to our friends in the Catholic faith, which in—just in the last several days, the administration has said that under Obamacare, that religious organizations like schools, Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, and so forth, have to—have to provide for free contraceptives and free morning-after pills, abortive pills, for all of their employees, in violation of the religious conscience of those organizations. This kind of assault on religion will end if I’m president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: But reproductive rights groups have hailed the measure, which was fueled by the independent Institute of Medicine’s finding that birth control is necessary for women’s health and well-being.

In related news, Karen Handel, vice president for public policy at the nation’s leading breast cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, submitted her resignation yesterday following the public outcry over Komen’s decision to cut off funding for breast cancer screening programs run by Planned Parenthood. Komen had provided Planned Parenthood $700,000 last year to provide education and breast care for low-income women. Komen was forced to reverse its decision following the massive public backlash. Handel was widely thought to have been responsible for the decision, but in an interview yesterday she denied having sole authority.

KAREN HANDEL: Susan G. Komen for the Cure, first of all, is a great organization. And the last time I checked, private nonprofit organizations have a right and a responsibility to be able to set the highest standards and criteria on their own, without interference, let alone the level of vicious attacks and coercion that has occurred by Planned Parenthood. It’s simply outrageous. I clearly acknowledge that I was involved in the process, but to suggest that I had the sole authority is just absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: Karen Handel is a staunchly anti-abortion Republican who once served as secretary of state in Georgia. She also ran for governor of Georgia on an anti-Planned Parenthood platform.

Today we host a discussion on birth control and contraception. We’re joined here in New York by Michael Brendan Dougherty, politics editor at the Business Insider. He’s also contributing editor at The American Conservative. Loretta Ross is with us from Atlanta, the national coordinator of the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective and longtime human rights activist. And we’re joined by Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, a nonprofit organization that represents the voice of Catholics on reproductive and sexual health.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Michael, I wanted to begin with you, though, just around the Santorum sweep. He has now won more states than the man known as the front-runner, Mitt Romney.

MICHAEL BRENDAN DOUGHERTY: Yeah, I mean, it’s a stunning rebuke, really, to Mitt Romney’s candidacy by conservatives. I mean, it should be noted right away that there were no delegates necessarily at stake last night. Most of these states will sign their delegates later in the year at state conventions. So it’s not clear that in the race for Republican delegates, Rick Santorum is ahead at all. But he, last night, dealt a grievous blow to Newt Gingrich, as well, making it almost impossible for him to become the anti-Romney candidate in this race. I think—I don’t know if Rick Santorum could be said to be a serious threat to Mitt Romney now, but in the wake of these victories, he’ll be given the resources to become one if he—if he is able to marshal them correctly.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been following Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, who was trounced when he ran again for his Senate seat.

MICHAEL BRENDAN DOUGHERTY: Right. I mean, he won—he had a history of winning in Democratic districts and in a state that is purple. But in 2006, it was just a massacre year for Republicans, and Rick Santorum really got the worst of it. His tone seemed totally out of—it seemed very much like a tone from 2002 or 2003, when the electorate was in a very different mood in 2006. So, this is actually a stunning political comeback from him. He had been written off for dead. I mean, it was a double-digit loss in a state that he had carried pretty easily before. So it is, you know, one of these remarkable turnarounds in American politics, and we’ll see how long it lasts.

AMY GOODMAN: And the platform he is running on, as the "true conservative"?

MICHAEL BRENDAN DOUGHERTY: I mean—

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean? What does he stand for?

MICHAEL BRENDAN DOUGHERTY: Well, Rick Santorum has a kind of—as everyone in this race does, they have kind of a broader idiosyncratic view of conservatism. So his—he focuses and loves to talk about social issues, abortion, contraception, religious freedom, Obama’s war on religion. Those are major themes. He’s also one of the more hawkish candidates, to be quite honest. After he left the Senate, he focused on issues about national security and talking up threats from Iran or from Latin America, and even connecting them in a way that puzzles some watchers of the international scene. But there is also a slightly populist angle to his message. He seems to talk about working-class voters. He seems to empathize with them in a way that Mitt Romney doesn’t seem capable of.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this—last night’s trouncing of the other candidates—I mean, in some cases, Mitt Romney, he got like a third of what he got in 2008 in those states. It just says money wins, because Romney did not spend much money on ads in these three states, in the way that he has just flooded the airwaves of Florida and South Carolina and Iowa.

MICHAEL BRENDAN DOUGHERTY: No, it’s true that money plays a huge role, and he is investing money in contests where there are delegates at stake. That is the Romney campaign’s decision. It also says something, though, that in 2008, Romney was seen and was running as the conservative alternative to John McCain. Now, Mitt Romney is seen to be in the John McCain position as an establishment-approved candidate who deviates from conservative orthodoxy. And so, Romney won some of these states four years ago as the conservative alternative; now the conservative alternative, Rick Santorum, wins them. But Romney didn’t end up winning that nomination, and I still doubt that Rick Santorum can win this one.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to bring Jon O’Brien into the discussion. Jon O’Brien is president of Catholics for Choice, a nonprofit organization that represents the voice of Catholics on reproductive and sexual health. Jon O’Brien, can you comment, as well, on the victory of Santorum and what it might mean for the question that we are addressing today, namely, reproductive rights?

JON O’BRIEN: I think what’s important is that, really, Rick Santorum doesn’t represent mainstream views, either on Catholicism or generally within the American public. I think that he has—he has, obviously, a base of support, but he’s got a long way to run before he could be, I think, considered a serious candidate. I think some of his views around sexual and reproductive health are not mainstream America. The response that we saw to the Komen controversy last week actually tells us how Americans feel: Don’t mess with my birth control. Most Americans recognize, as the Institute of Medicine has done, that birth control is preventative medicine. It’s very important for women’s health. So Rick Santorum’s views about birth control, about abortion, I don’t think that that’s mainstream America. And I think that that will become more apparent in the coming days.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.

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