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Democrats see Rick Santorum as a joke -- a guy who'd lose by a landslide in a general election because his positions on social issues would alienate women -- but a new poll shows Republican women like Santorum better than they did a month ago. Santorum is seen favorably by 57 percent of Republican women, up 13 percent since January, The Washington Post's Amy Gardner reports. That's despite the fact that Santorum's spent the last couple weeks talking about birth control, the main issue Democrats think should kill him with women.

Politico's Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown report there's a "Santorum paradox, Democrats say: He’s too dangerous to ignore — yet impossible to take seriously." Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, pointed to the women who knew Santorum best: the ones in his home state. Politico summarizes: "those in the Philadelphia suburbs who abandoned him by the thousands during his disastrous 59-percent-to-41-percent 2006 loss to Democrat Bob Casey, the worst drubbing a Senate incumbent had absorbed since 1980." 

But according to the Post, Republicans are practical about the most important issues, like the economy, when picking a candidate. And Santorum himself says that just because he gives speeches about the moral hazard of birth control "doesn't mean I want a government program to fix it." His position is that his comments on social issues are part of a set of talking points meant to get people's attention but that will never be reflected in public policy. Perhaps women voters are rewarding Santorum for his honesty.

Another possibility is that they're still unfamiliar with his views. The Post notes that Santorum is less well known among female Democrats and independents compared to the other Republican candidates. Women, sadly, are far less likely to know basic facts about the presidential candidates, according to a January poll by Pew Research Center. (Come on, ladies! At least watch The Daily Show once in a while.) For example, even among the relatively-knowledgable subgroup of Tea Party Republicans, only less than half -- 45 percent -- of females knew Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, while 72 percent of their fellow Tea Partying males did. (Pew didn't ask a "basic fact" about Santorum.) So maybe we'll have to wait until women nationally get to know Santorum better to see what they really think of him. In Michigan, where the candidates have been campaigning off and on for weeks, Santorum is ahead of Romney, but behind among women, according to an American Research Group poll. Santorum has 39 percent of male Republicans's support, but 36 percent of female Republicans'. With Romney, the gender gap is reversed: 30 percent of the guys back him, while 39 percent of the women do.

 

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