Rick Santorum compares gay marriage to polygamy. Will that help him with GOP?

Rick Santorum, who was speaking to college Republicans in New Hampshire, was loudly booed. While GOP voters have consistently opposed gay marriage, a majority of Americans now disagree.

By , Staff writer

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    Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at the Keene Public Library, Friday, in Keene, N.H. Santorum was booed after he compared gay marriage to polygamy, in a meeting with college Republicans in Concord, N.H., yesterday.
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Rick Santorum was booed yesterday after he compared gay marriage to polygamy, in case you haven’t heard.

In a meeting with college Republicans in Concord, N.H., he got into a long back-and-forth with the crowd on this contentious social issue. At one point he said, “Are we saying everyone should have the right to marry? So anyone can marry anyone else? So anybody can marry several people?”

Some attendees didn’t take this too well, and let Santorum know it. When he left he received some cheers, but they were drowned out by lingering boos.

Recommended: Election 101: Where the GOP candidates stand on immigration, abortion and other social issues

Is Santorum’s stance on gay marriage an impediment to his winning the nomination? He is adamantly in favor of defining “marriage” as something between a man and a woman, after all.

Well, in terms of his appeal to GOP voters, this position is probably a big plus. Republicans as a whole remain highly opposed to allowing such consecrated unions between members of the same sex. According to a Gallup poll from last May, only 28 percent of Republicans are in favor of gay marriage. That’s a number that hasn’t budged in years.

On this subject “Republicans in particular seem fixed in their opinions”, wrote Gallup’s chief editor, Frank Newport, at the time.

It’s a different story when you look at the whole electorate, though. If Santorum does win the GOP nod this is an issue that could hurt him in the fall.

Attitudes toward gay marriage among the electorate as a whole have shown a big step toward the “pro” side in recent years. Two years ago, only 40 percent of respondents to a Gallup survey were in favor of same-sex marriage. Last May, 53 percent said they would approve. It was the first time a poll showed a majority of the US population taking that position.

Among independents, the slice of the electorate crucial to victory in November, approval was even higher, at 59 percent. Nor is Gallup alone; a recent survey from the Pew Center showed similar results, with a plurality of 46 percent approving of gay marriage.

The issue remains volatile, and the approval rating here is fairly narrow. That can be seen by President Obama’s own awkward attempts to strike some balance on this subject. But the fact is that Democrats could easily paint Santorum as out of step with the US on this. And they will try to do that, if he wins.

Santorum’s biggest problem here, though, might be that Republicans know the former Pennsylvania Senator might not wear well on the entire public. While they respect his cultural warrior credentials, the emphasis Santorum has put on the “warrior” part of this equation in the past has at times made him seem combative and dour.

At the conservative “RedState” blog, contributor Leon H. Wolf wrote a post on Friday to the effect that while he likes Santorum, the GOP should really, really not nominate him.

“As we have seen during the debates this year, he reacts to people disagreeing with him by immediately moving into angry, sneering, whiny defensiveness,” writes Wolf. “He was tremendously ineffective as a member of the Senate leadership because his personality does not command loyalty or respect.”

Santorum’s perceived electability remains his biggest weakness, writes the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza on his “Fix” blog. He noted that in exit polls, 31 percent of Iowa GOP voters said that the ability to beat President Obama was the most important attribute a Republican nominee could have.

Santorum won only 9 percent of those voters.

“That’s a problem that Santorum needs to find a way to solve – and quickly. You simply cannot win a nomination where the biggest voting concern for people is beating the incumbent if they don’t think you can, well, beat the incumbent,” writes Cillizza.

Santorum, for his part, has been insisting that electability is a hobby horse of reporters, and that picking a real conservative is the most important aspect of GOP voters’ choice.

“Who has the best chance to beat Obama? Rick Santorum,” said an ad Santorum’s campaign ran in Iowa. “A full spectrum conservative, Rick Santorum is rock solid on values issues.”

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