Decision 2012

Santorum taken down as Romney wins New Hampshire primary

Rick Santorum By Lisa Keen
Keen News Service

The New Hampshire primary results took anti-gay Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum down several notches Tuesday night and boosted the more progressive Jon Huntsman up a few.

Many pundits are now all but assuming Mitt Romney — who came out on top in Iowa and New Hampshire — will be the Republican nominee to challenge President Obama in the general election. But Republican voter support still seems dramatically split among several candidates, a trend that could easily continue in the next primaries, South Carolina on January 21, and Florida on January 31.

Rick Santorum

Romney had earned 38 percent of the Granite State vote, Ron Paul had 23 percent, and Huntsman 17 percent. Newt Gingrich got 10 percent, Rick Santorum got nine percent, Rick Perry received one percent, and 24 other Republican candidates earned one percent collectively.

Mo Baxley, head of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry group and a long-time activist in New Hampshire, predicted Santorum’s opposition to same-sex marriage would not play well there. She noted that a survey in December showed that the idea of repealing the state’s marriage equality law resonated with only 25 percent of voters.

Interestingly, the CNN exit polls with 2,760 voters found that 25 percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters identified as “very conservative.” Santorum got only one in four of those votes. Romney won the greatest share of support from voters who identified as “born again, evangelical” –30 percent to Santorum’s 23 percent. Though Santorum is Catholic, he won only 8 percent of voters who identified as Catholic, compared to Romney winning 45 percent.

Baxley said there are no LGBT Republican groups or even a chapter of Log Cabin Republicans in New Hampshire and that most gays in the state are “very much assimilated and a part” of the general community. It’s because of that, she said, that Romney got a big surprise in December when he tried to solicit the vote of an older man in a flannel hunting shirt and Vietnam Veteran’s cap at a local diner. The man turned out to be gay and unhappy with Romney’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Republicans don’t want the issue to come up,” said Baxley, in an interview in Concord before the primary.

That appeared to be true. No one candidate initiated a discussion of same-sex marriage. Santorum was “silent” on same-sex marriage in New Hampshire, said Baxley, because he realizes that, while Republicans in the state may be fiscal conservatives, most are not social conservatives. And candidates “don’t want to get pigeon-holed” on the same-sex marriage issue, and “they’re running away from it,” she said.

CNN commentator Roland Martin faulted Rick Santorum for having gotten into an “argument” with a college student over same-sex marriage.

“He didn’t understand, look, the economy is the number one issue,” said Martin on CNN’s political analysis panel Tuesday night.

But it wasn’t Santorum who brought up the issue in New Hampshire. Members of the audience at an event and reporters at two nationally televised debates last weekend brought it up. Santorum pulled out his polygamy argument against a college student at one event, but on the televised debates, he toned down his language considerably.

In his speech Tuesday night, Santorum referred to the New Hampshire results as a “temporary setback” and said he would be carrying his campaign on to South Carolina. He said that true conservatism requires protecting certain institutions, such as family. But he eschewed the harsh rhetoric from early in his campaign, in Iowa, when he emphasized his opposition to same-sex marriage by deriding it with comparisons to adultery, polygamy, and incest.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans group said he thinks Ron Paul’s second place finish “underscores New Hampshire’s commitment to the libertarian principles he has consistently championed, which include his votes against the anti-family Federal Marriage Amendment and for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Log Cabin Republicans are also pleased with the strong performance of Governor Jon Huntsman, a solid supporter of civil unions for same-sex couples and a candidate who frequently talked about the need for Americans to do more for gay rights,” said Cooper. “As the nomination process moves forward, Log Cabin Republicans suggest all the candidates recognize the lesson learned from New Hampshire; that inclusion wins.”

As the nomination process moves forward, the Obama campaign seems already focused on Romney as their likely opponent. A recent email from the Obama campaign points out that, “In 2002, Mitt’s campaign printed a flier advocating for gay rights in Massachusetts. Now? His campaign is denying it.”

The message is an apparent reference to news that Eric Fehrstrom, chief spokesperson for Romney’s presidential campaign, told the Huffington Post that the campaign for Romney when he was running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 did not authorize a flyer distributed to Gay Pride participants in Boston. The flyer welcomed gay pride participants with the message that, “All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.”

The Obama campaign message to the LGBT community seems to indicate some concern on the president’s re-election team that Romney might moderate his views on LGBT issues during the general election.

It’s hard to see Romney doing that, given the risk of stoking criticism that he changes his views to win votes. Romney seems to have clearly staked out his general election position on gay-related issues: He’s against same-sex marriage and against discrimination based on sexual orientation. President Obama is “evolving” on same-sex marriage and is against discrimination based on sexual orientation. But it seems unlikely Romney would attempt to portray himself as a better champion for LGBT people than President Obama.

Nevertheless, some LGBT groups are already worrying whether Santorum might be a vice presidential pick for Romney. The Human Rights Campaign sent out a fundraising plea on Monday, saying Santorum could “very well become Mitt Romney’s running mate.”

“A Romney-Santorum White House,” said the HRC message, “could set back our progress for years – especially on the repeal of DOMA.”

Meanwhile, the Republican contest’s openly gay candidate, Fred Karger, failed to gain any traction in New Hampshire despite a strong effort to turn out young supporters in such college towns as Hanover. A Twitter message from the Karger campaign late Tuesday night said Karger had one percent in his “strength areas” and was leading over Michelle Bachmann by four votes. Bachmann withdrew from the contest following the Iowa caucuses.

But Karger still has hope of gaining some attention eventually.

In an interview at a local Republican event in Nashua January 6, Karger said he hopes to hang in as a candidate after other candidates drop out. Karger was one of 30 Republican candidates in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary –a slot he gained by simply paying a $1,000 filing fee. But he decided not to participate in the Iowa caucuses and said party officials in South Carolina and Florida blocked him from the ballot there.

Karger said Michigan party officials have been more welcoming, so, after Tuesday, Karger was headed to that state to wage his long-shot campaign as the first openly gay candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Following Iowa and New Hampshire voting, Romney now has 23 delegates toward the Republican presidential nomination, compared to 10 for Paul, 8 for Santorum, Perry with 4, Gingrich with 3, and 2 for Huntsman.

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