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The Battle for Social Conservatives

Mitt Romney has been trying to woo the GOP’s social conservatives, while Rick Santorum has effectively countered the play for his voter base.

Conservative Rick Santorum beat the more centrist Mitt Romney in three battles on February 7 — the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and the delegate-less Missouri primary. This was the same week that saw Romney trying to woo the GOP’s social conservatives, by criticizing the Obama administration decision to make many Catholic organizations provide birth control, and by slamming the court that overturned California’s gay marriage ban. Santorum countered against this play for his voter base, pointing out that during his term as Massachusetts governor, Romney himself required Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception. Does Romney have any chance of winning this conservative demographic away from Santorum?

“I think the results of Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota speak directly to why Romney has been courting social conservatives,” says Ange-Marie Hancock of the USC Dornsife College. “Unfortunately, based on the results of Tuesday night, Romney’s overtures aren’t working to convince social conservatives, who seem to have spoken out in favor of Santorum.”

Darry Sragow of the Dornsife College wonders if these conservatives will take into account Romney’s ability to compete against President Barack Obama. “Whether Romney can win over a respectable number of social conservatives in the Republican Party depends much less on Romney than it does on the survival instincts of the social conservatives,” Sragow says. “We’ve seen that some social conservatives are willing to bring government to a halt and the Republican Party to its knees in a quest for the perfect rather than the possible. California is the perfect example: Republican registration is down to just over 30 percent, because the social conservatives are driving more moderate voters out of the party in their suicidal quest for ideological purity.

“Romney will not win with hard-core socially conservative Republicans,” Sragow adds. “He needs to make sure they are outnumbered.”

Contact Ange-Marie Hancock, associate professor of political science at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, at (213) 740-3297 (office), (310) 994-5563 (cell) or Contact Darry Sragow, adjunct assistant professor of political science at the USC Dornsife College, at (213) 892-2925 or

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