THE BLOG

Rick Santorum Is Blowing the Election by Losing Catholic Vote to Romney

03/08/2012 12:21 pm ET | Updated May 08, 2012

Conventional wisdom is that Mitt Romney is far from the perfect candidate who, if he loses, can only blame himself. That same wisdom posts that Rick Santorum is running an excellent underdog campaign.

However, the reality is different. It is Santorum who is throwing the election away by failing to appeal to his core audience, those who share his conservative Catholic faith. Rick Santorum has made the perfect pitch to Catholics, you would think. He has discussed his deep faith at every opportunity and is the most devout Catholic candidate in history to run for president of the United States. It is his calling card, the foundation stone of his political outlook -- yet his fellow Catholics are spurning him. John F. Kennedy spent much of his race setting his religion apart from his politics, but Santorum has no such qualms.

Why then is Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, a religion many Catholics have issues with, trouncing him with the Catholic vote? In Ohio, the CNN exit poll said it all: 43 percent for Romney, 30 percent for Santorum among Catholics. That's not a beating, that's a whupping.

What must be agonizingly clear to Santorum is that if he could win the Catholic vote he would be the party nominee. Of course Catholics are not a monolithic voting block, but the fact is that it would be natural to assume that a higher percentage of Republican Catholics, more conservative to begin with, would side with Rick.

The reason is evident, however. Right after his surprise surge in February Santorum went on such a riff about contraception, Kennedy's speech on separation of church and state, and Catholic moral values that he scared the bejaysus out of even right-wing Catholics.

Perhaps his greatest mistake was to mock President Obama for stating that his ambition was that every high school student would have a shot at college. That has long been the Irish Catholic dream for their kids, as well as the Italian, Polish, and Hispanic Catholic vision for their families. Education has been the big boot strapper for Catholics for generations. From the "No Irish Need Apply" times to reaching the White House with John F. Kennedy, education and political organizing were seen as the two great tools for advancement.

Instead of acknowledging that, Santorum had a rush of blood to the head and committed the politician's gaffe of speaking truthfully about how hard of a right-wing Catholic he really is. The result is clear. He has frightened the horses and they have fled. He cannot win them back even though his rhetoric has softened. In the end, this GOP campaign should be remembered for Santorum throwing away an upset victory rather than for Romney claiming an unimpressive one.