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Soledad O'Brien Implies That Santorum Lost Catholic Voters by Attacking JFK

After Tuesday night's Michigan GOP primary, O'Brien tried to get Rick Santorum's press secretary to admit that the candidate lost Catholic voters in the state because he attacked former President John F. Kennedy for saying the church had no role in the policy of the state.  

Though there may be many reasons Michigan Catholics voted for Mitt Romney over Santorum, O'Brien chose to hammer the point that perhaps Santorum suffered for picking on Kennedy, a Catholic Democrat who insisted his religious views were "a private affair." The CNN host gave no specific evidence for the validity of her question, however.

"When you look at the exit polls, Catholics went for Mitt Romney," stated O'Brien. "Do you think that had something to do with his comments about JFK and saying I threw up...when JFK was talking about the role his faith played in how he would govern? Did that hurt him with Catholics?" she asked.

When her guest gave a neutral answer, O'Brien repeated her question. "So looking back would you say, that was a bad strategy, we alienated Catholics potentially by attacking JFK? Maybe we should change things? Is that what you would be considering?"

[Video below the break. For audio click here.]

 

 

O'Brien had begun that portion of the interview asking about Santorum's declining polling in the state, but then moved from the general to the specific reasons of why he lost voters. She pressed the secretary on his remarks against contraception, on separation of church and state, and on college education, and the loss of votes he suffered.

"So, was that shift saying, wow, that's a mistake. Our poll numbers are coming down when we go that direction. We're carving a narrower niche of people who that message is resonating with?" she asked.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on February 29 on Starting Point at 8:26 a.m. EST, is as follows:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about some polling, because just two weeks ago, you were actually ahead a lot in the polls. And then, over time, up to just a couple of days ago, you know, that lead really narrowed, and then you had what was in certain – in overall voters a loss. What do you think accounts for that declining polling that was happening?

ALICE STEWART, Santorum 2012 campaign national press secretary: Well, a lot of it has to do with the big-money Romney machine steam rolling in here and putting up quite a bit of ads, and being able to have a much bigger staff. He had certainly a lot of surrogates come in here. He and himself, as well as members of his family coming here in their own home state, and that's to be expected. You know, we came in here two weeks ago –

O'BRIEN: How much do you think it had to do with the conversation over the weekend that really focused on college education and connecting that to snobbery and contraception and separation of church and state, because that was really the topic of conversation over the weekend and then into Monday?

STEWART: Well, I can assure you, as Rick went around to several events over the past several days and weeks, the thing that resonated with the people and what they connected with him were his views and his statements that he made about things that are of interest to them. And that is jobs and the economy. And the past few days, he's talked quite a bit about energy and national security.

Those are the issues that people listen to. Those are the things that they're concerned with. And that is what helped him to come in a virtual dead heat with Mitt Romney in his own home state. And he's connecting to people, as he said –

O'BRIEN: I'm just wondering if you think it was a mistake to have conversations, because the topic of conversation, right now, closer to primary day, the shift was back to jobs and economy, but, over the weekend, it really wasn't. Over the weekend, it was JFK, and it was First Amendment, and it was separation of church and state, and it was contraception, and it was calling the President a snob about thinking that everybody should go to college.

So, was that shift saying, wow, that's a mistake. Our poll numbers are coming down when we go that direction. We're carving a narrower niche of people who that message is resonating with?

STEWART: Well, I can assure you he spent the bulk of his time out there on the stump talking about jobs and the economy and national security. The issues that you talked about are things that were played out in the media. And, specifically on the college issue, he was referring to the fact that college is not the right avenue for every single person in this country.

Trade schools, technical schools, and other training programs that will equip people of this country for manufacturing jobs, which is key, and he sees as a corner stone for helping the economy. That's the point he was trying to make. But it's the message that connected with the people here in Michigan in terms of his 100-day plan for igniting our energy resources here, repealing Obamacare, tax cuts for families.

Those were the issues that connected with people, and as he said in the tape that you played, he got into the hearts of people of Michigan, and they responded very well.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about the robo calls. Was it a mistake?

(...)

O'BRIEN: Why do you think he lost Catholics? When you look at the exit polls, Catholics went for Mitt Romney. Do you think that had something to do with his comments about JFK and saying I threw up when I, you know, was basically talking about the role – when JFK was talking about the role his faith played in how he would govern? Did that hurt him with Catholics? In the state?

STEWART: In terms of how the votes break down, we'll look at that over the next few days and look at how we need to move forward on that.

O'BRIEN: So in that one I can tell you. In that one I'll tell you, because he lost Catholics, so that's how the vote went down for him. So looking back would you say, that was a bad strategy, we alienated Catholics potentially by attacking JFK? Maybe we should change things? Is that what you would be considering?

STEWART: No. What we do is reach out to the evangelical community across the state and we appealed to them and the hearts and minds of the evangelicals and received a great reception. We had a tremendous event yesterday. Quite a bit of members of the faith community came out and as I said, he reached into their hearts and they responded accordingly. And they appreciate his views and his values on faith and family and the pro-life issue and that's what we're going to continue to do, reaching out to evangelicals, people of all faiths and certainly conservatives across this country.

Particularly we're doing very well in Ohio. We had a great event in Ohio yesterday. We'll also reach out in Tennessee and Georgia and Washington state. We'll continue his message as the consistent conservative and we'll continue to win voters across this country one person at a time.


-- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center