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NBC's Curry Grills Santorum on Negative Campaigning, Women in the Military

In the only network morning show interview with Rick Santorum in the wake of his three-state victory on Tuesday, NBC Today co-host Ann Curry on Friday pestered the former Pennsylvania senator on whether he would "commit" not to do any negative campaigning and attempted to portray his recent comments on women serving in military combat roles as a gaffe.

Curry put this question to Santorum early in the interview: "...it is clear that negative campaigning generates votes....aren't you going to now have to go negative? Will you commit that your – you and your PACs will not? Or are you going to have to now?"

As Santorum began to respond and say his focus would be on issues, Curry interrupted him: "But Senator, I'm asking you – I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I'm asking about whether or not you will go negative. Do you – have you made a decision about that? Have you decided you absolutely will not? Can you commit to that now or will you have to? Do you want this nomination enough to do that if you have to?"

Santorum reiterated that he would not be "personally attacking people," but continue to talk about issues and the records of his opponents. Curry still refused to move on: "You're clearly animated when you talk about this. So are you prepared now to commit to not going negative? Can you say that, answer that question yes or no?"

When Curry finally decided to switch to a new topic, it was to suggest Santorum had said something offensive about women serving in the military:

One of the things that you were asked last night on CNN as an issue that Americans care about, and you were asked about the Pentagon's plan to allow women to serve in more combat roles. And you had some concerns about this and you said, quote, "It could be very compromising" – excuse me – "It could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved." What do you mean by that? Do you want to take another crack at that?

Santorum explained his completely noncontroversial comments: "Well, no, I – exactly what I said. I think there's – when you have men and women together in combat I think there's – men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way....the natural inclination to not focus on the mission but to try to be in a position where you might want to protect someone..." In other words, chivalry.

Curry then revealed how she had misinterpreted the comments: "Some people might listen to that quote and think you meant that you were concerned about women being emotional." Santorum replied: "Oh, no. No, that's not the issue. That's never – I mean, I've talked about this issue a lot and I've never raised that as a concern."

Completely absent from the interview was a single question about Santorum's outspoken criticism of President Obama over the ObamaCare contraception mandate. Interestingly, in a  news report just prior to the interview, correspondent Kelly O'Donnell noted: "Rick Santorum, fresh off his three wins and his largest crowd, about 4,000 at Oral Roberts University. A Christian school where Santorum pounded away again at the White House for its battle over contraception coverage with the Church."

On Tuesday, Today brought on left-wing MSNBC host and feminist activist Rachel Maddow to voice her support for the intrusive Obama policy and denounce the "far-right perspective" that objected to the attack on freedom of religion.

The show has yet to bring on a single Catholic Church official or Republican critic to discuss the topic.

Here is a full transcript of the February 10 interview:


7:05AM ET

ANN CURRY: Well, the aforementioned Rick Santorum is now joining us from Capitol Hill. Senator, good morning.

RICK SANTORUM: Good morning, Ann.

CURRY: There is a sense you're finally getting your due, gaining momentum now after this three gain – three-state sweep. And a new Gallup poll released on Thursday shows you now tied for second place with Gingrich nationwide. So what do you want to say about the excitement this is generating? We just heard Kelly [O'Donnell] talk about the money you've generated. Does she  have that number right? And how much more do you expect?

SANTORUM: Well, we'd love it to keep up at this pace. It's been about a million dollars a day, which is – which is really terrific. We're out there saying the same message we've been saying for the last several months, which is, this is the most important election in the history of our country. This an election about whether we're going to be a country that still believes in foundational freedoms, that we're going to build a great country from the bottom up or we're going to be ruled by an elite that's going to manage us from the top down and telling us what to do.

CURRY: One of the things you said on Thursday about Mitt Romney, you said that his campaign, quote, "Has been serially tearing down opponents without offering any kind of vision for what he wants to do for this country." You know, I've got to ask you. Because if you take a look at what has happened in this campaign so far, for the Republican nomination so far, it is clear that negative campaigning generates votes. So the question is, if history is any guide, aren't you going to now have to go negative? Will you commit that your – you and your PACs will not? Or are you going to have to now?

SANTORUM: Well, I've talked about the issues. You know, I – the speeches I give, I try to give a vision for America, what I believe is in the best interests of our country with limited government and reducing the size and scale of Washington and promoting, you know, those basic values that I think – you know, of hard work, and giving people opportunity, particularly folks-

CURRY: But Senator, I'm asking you – I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I'm asking about whether or not you will go negative. Do you – have you made a decision about that?

SANTORUM: Well, that's what I said-

CURRY: Have you decided you absolutely will not? Can you commit to that now or will you have to? Do you want this nomination enough to do that if you have to?

SANTORUM: Well, if you mean negative by going out and personally attacking people and questioning their personal or business or what – no, I'm going to talk about the issues. I'm going to talk about my record, I'm going to talk about my vision for the country. I'm going to talk about Governor Romney's record and his vision for the country too, I'm going to talk about Barack Obama's record and his vision for the country. This should be about the issues, about what people care about at home. They don't care about, you know, where you made money and how you made that money, as long as you didn't do anything illegal or unethical. They're focused on how you're going to help them make money, provide for themselves and their family and build stronger communities in America.

CURRY: You're clearly animated when you talk about this. So are you prepared now to commit to not going negative? Can you say that, answer that question yes or no?

SANTORUM: Well, if you mean going negative against someone in a personal way, absolutely not. We will talk about the issues. I will, look, I think Governor Romney's record and Barack Obama's record, which on a lot of issues are the same, are in fact, negative in what they've done to this country and what they did to the state of Massachusetts. And I'll certainly point that out, as I have throughout the course of this campaign. We're talk about things Americans care about, that affect them, not this back and forth that we've seen in this race so far.

CURRY: One of the things that you were asked last night on CNN as an issue that Americans care about, and you were asked about the Pentagon's plan to allow women to serve in more combat roles. And you had some concerns about this and you said, quote, "It could be very compromising" – excuse me – "It could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved." What do you mean by that? Do you want to take another crack at that?

SANTORUM: Well, no, I – exactly what I said. I think there's – when you have men and women together in combat I think there's – men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way. I think it's something that's natural, that's very much in our culture to be protective. And that's – that was my concern and I think that's a concern with all of the militaries. The Israeli military, for example, has a lot of women in a lot of roles but they don't allow women to be engaged in combat because of that reason, of sort of the natural inclination to not focus on the mission but to try to be in a position where you might want to protect someone because that's something, again, something that's natural within our culture.

CURRY: Some people might listen to that quote and think you meant that you were concerned about women being emotional.

SANTORUM: Oh, no. No, that's not the issue. That's never – I mean, I've talked about this issue a lot and I've never raised that as a concern. No, the issue is – and certainly one that's been talked about for a long, long time – is how men would react to seeing women in harm's way or potentially being injured or in a vulnerable position and not be concerned about, you know, accomplishing the mission.

CURRY: I see. Right. Very quickly, I hope it's okay to ask about how your daughter – your 3-year-old daughter Isabella is doing. I know she was hospitalized with pneumonia.

SANTORUM: Well, she is doing great. I was with her last night. I hadn't been with her since I left her in the hospital. She was on the mend when I left. But it was just so great to be home last night and get a chance to spend a lot of time with her and the rest of the kids. So, this has been a great little wellspring of refreshment for me on the campaign the last few hours.

CURRY: Well, we wish her well. Thank you so much.

SANTORUM: Thank you so much, Ann.

CURRY: Senator Rick Santorum this morning. You Bet. And by the way, Senator Santorum will be one of David Gregory's guests on Meet the Press this Sunday, along with new White House chief of staff Jacob Lew.

-- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.