Santorum Wins Big In Three Early Voting Contests

GOP hopeful Rick Santorum carried wins in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri, on Tuesday. The White House also tries to manage a controversy over requiring many Catholic institutions to provide free contraception in their employees' health coverage. Host Michel Martin covers these topics and other political news with a diverse panel of politicos.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. The race for the Republican presidential nomination looked all but done on Monday night but, oh, what a difference a day makes. Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, went three for three on Tuesday winning contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri. Does that put a speed bump or a boulder in the path of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who was talking as though he had his party's nomination pretty much under control earlier this week. But that's just one of the topics in the news we'd like to talk about today.

We're not just interested in who's up and who's down in the race for the White House but also how to pay for the race. Of course, we're talking about superPAC's and what impact they're having on the race. We're also interested in the controversy over the decision by the Komen Foundation - now reversed - to stop making grants to Planned Parenthood. And we're interested in whether the Obama administration might reverse it's itself over it's proposed regulations that would require most institutions that serve the public like hospitals and universities to cover contraception in their health care plans.

To talk about all of these stories we've called upon Viviana Hurtado. She is blogger in chief of the website The Wise Latina Club. Michelle Bernard is an independent. She's the president and CEO of the independent conservative think tank The Bernard Center for Women Politics and Public Policy. Mary Kate Cary is also with us once again. She's a former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush and she's also a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. Welcome to all of you.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

VIVIANA HURTADO: Thank you.

MICHELLE BERNARD: Yeah.

MARY KATE CARY: Thanks for having us Michel.

MARTIN: Let's start off with the big news from last night. Here it is:

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL SPEECH)

RICK SANTORUM: Thank you all so very, very much. It is great to be here. I just can't thank the people of Missouri. We doubled them up here and in Minnesota.

CARY: Mary Kate, of course that's Rick Santorum.

That's him.

MARTIN: Former senator from Pennsylvania. In fact I'm looking back over some conversations about politics that we've had in recent weeks and we didn't even mention him.

CARY: Yeah, he's been off the radar.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Which I feel - which I'm sad about now. What happened?

CARY: Well, big clean sweep for him last night. It'll help him in terms of making the argument that he's more electable now. It certainly helped him with money. He raised $250,000 online last night alone, which probably doubled his entire war chest. I don't think he had much going into it.

MARTIN: More sweater vests.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARY: Yes, more sweater vests. Actually, he went to the town that makes the sweater vests, which I thought was kind of sweet. Anyway...

MARTIN: Excellent but did he send us any?

CARY: No.

MARTIN: You know, we believe in clothing items that mark the important occasions. OK, but tell me why? What do you think happened here and this has been a very topsy-turvy race for those who, you know, recall...

CARY: Well, yeah, that's the thing.

...I mean, obviously it's been, you know, in the first three contests three different people...

Yeah.

MARTIN: ...you know, at the top.

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: But again, you know, Rick Santorum did not seem to be making any headway. So, what do you think happened here?

CARY: I think it was a, it was a question of turnout. One of the things that didn't get mentioned too much last night, I was watching Wolf Blitzer. He was just hyperventilating. He was so excited that this was not just a march to coronation, you know, and I think that's very common in all the press. They love this conflict, the topsy-turvy, and selling a lot of newspapers and getting people to tune in.

MARTIN: And blog.

CARY: And blog.

MARTIN: And blog.

CARY: Yep, but it is a - none of these were non - they were all non-binding last night. They're beauty contests, as we call them in politics. Not a single delegate was actually won last night and I think that explains why turnout was low. I think it explains why some of these campaigns didn't put a whole lot of time and energy into it. And so I think that played to Rick Santorum's advantage. And so I think Mitt Romney was actually pretty lucky in all of this because if you're going to have three losses in one night, he didn't lose a single delegate.

So, I think - he's still the front-runner by a big factor in terms of the delegate count, and I think it's more of a speed bump than a boulder, as you were saying earlier for Romney.

MARTIN: Just to clarify what you're saying, that these were beauty contests in the sense that these people whatever they say at the polls last night, they are not bound by this at the...

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: ...nominating convention.

CARY: They can vote for anybody they want to.

MARTIN: You put the vote for whoever they want.

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: Which is not the case in, say, Florida.

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: Which is you are bound unless you - you're...

CARY: You're released after the first ballot so...

MARTIN: So Michelle Bernard, interested in your take on what happened, and because you are an independent, and independents are highly sought after. You do lean conservative, obviously.

BERNARD: Yes.

MARTIN: But as we said, but independents highly sought after here so, I'm interested in, first, your analysis of what happened, and secondly, what about Rick Santorum's electability argument, that he's the more electable candidate. That many people were saying that the Obama administration should be doing a happy dance because he's exactly the opposite. So, I want to hear your perspective?

BERNARD: I mean, from - I've - now it's interesting. From my perspective, I think that this is more of a speed bump for Mitt Romney than - it might not be a boulder but I do think it is more - I think it's a little bit more than a speed bump for him. Fascinating, no delegates were divided up last night but if you look at who went out and vote last night these are the tried and true Republicans, real conservatives. People, you know, where this democracy really makes a difference to them.

Two out of the three states were caucuses. People had to go out and caucus for their candidate, and what it shows me at least, is that for people who can - who self-identify as true, quote-unquote, "conservatives," Mitt Romney is not their man. They picked, they overwhelmingly picked Senator Santorum. We saw that in Iowa also. And it also tells us that money doesn't really matter. I mean, Rick Santorum does not have the coffers of Mitt Romney. If you really did look at it in terms of superPAC's and who has the most money going into each race, there's - Mitt Romney should have won this, by all accounts. I think this is a problem for him.

MARTIN: Um-hum.

BERNARD: Because what we continue to see is that for self-identify conservatives, people are saying: anyone but Mitt Romney. And I think that the anyone but Mitt Romney does not help his campaign with independents either.

MARTIN: Viviana, your perspective, and then I do really want to ask somebody about the electability argument.

HURTADO: But yeah, and I'm going to build on what Michelle and what Mary Kate has said. I think that even though it's a beauty contest and it's nonbinding, it keeps the chatter going; the doubts about Mitt Romney, and how truly conservative he is and if he could really win over the evangelical vote. For example, a significantly important part of the Republican primary voters, as well as just, you know, bringing up, you know, chatter about how flip-floppy he is.

I think one thing that's really interesting about Rick Santorum is that he's had remarkable debate performances in the ones that I've viewed. Certainly, the one's in Florida and in South Carolina. He's been aggressive when he had to be. He's been going after Barack Obama when he had to, but he also did a good job of going after Mitt Romney on the issues of so called flip-floppy and like women's reproductive rights, as well as health care or, you know, as he says Obama/Romneycare.

I think what's also interesting too, building on what the ladies said, is that there really - we can't really underestimate the power of the underdog and how it is that a campaign that maybe is bare bones. Look, he's going to have to need the money but I remember in 2008, we were talking about another underdog candidate who didn't seem to have the money of the so-called machine candidate and he's the president of the United States.

MARTIN: Let's talk about a little bit more a couple of the things you raised, including this argument about Rick Santorum's position and whether this is contributing to his position - a very strong candidate in support of or, opposing let's say reproductive rights for women or in his view pro-life. This is how - a very strong pro-life candidate. So let's talk a little bit about that.

And if you're just joining us, we're having an extended political chat this morning because there was a lot to talk about with Viviana Hurtado of The Wise Latina Club. Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger with U.S. News and World Report, also a former Republican presidential speechwriter. And Michelle Bernard of The Bernard Center for women politics and public policy. That's a right-of-center independent think thank.

Let's hear from Rick Santorum one more time here. Last night during his victory speech he talked about this ongoing controversy between some religious leaders that Catholic bishops have taken the lead here and the Obama administration because the White House has issued regulations - proposed regulations - that say that institutions like hospitals, universities, and colleges that serve the public, by and large, would be expected to cover contraception as part of the health care plans for their employees.

And as we said, this not just exclusively Catholics, but Catholic bishops have taken the lead in opposing this. And this is Rick Santorum - has been talking about this on the campaign trail. And let's play that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SANTORUM: When government gives you rights, the government can tell you how to exercise those rights. And we saw that with a group of people, a small group of people - just Catholics in the United States of America - who were told: You have a right to health care, but you will have the health care that we tell you.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, you were working on a piece about this, and you're saying that this is a perfect wedge issue that could try to peel some people who might otherwise be attracted to the president away from him in the fall. Tell us more about that.

CARY: Yeah. The - just by way of background, the exemption that we're talking about here has been limited by the administration that you could go under the conscience clause, as it's called, for health care.

It used to be all churches and church-related institutions. The administration has narrowed it so that only churches themselves can get the exemption and not have to offer - not just contraceptives, but the morning after pill, which is really what the hot button is here, because most Catholics consider the morning after pill to be abortion.

And so now you can - you have three choices, if you're a major Catholic institution. You can either go against your beliefs and offer morning after pills free of charge to your people under your health care plan.

Or you can stop the health care plan, don't offer any insurance to your employees and then face fines to the tune of $2,000 per employee. Catholic Charities, for example, nationally employ 70,000 people. That would be $140 million in fines, and their operating budget annually is only $40 million. So clearly, that would bankrupt Catholic Charities. And you think about all the people that they help, would no longer get their help.

And then the third option would be to get under the exemption by only hiring and serving Catholics as the strict, you know, definition of the church would be, which means all of these Catholic colleges and hospitals and things like that would have to turn away non-Catholics as students and as patients and clients, whatever.

So it's an untenable situation for these leaders of the Catholic institutions. The reason that I think it's a wedge issue is because...

MARTIN: But can I - let me just clarify one point here.

CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I only have a minute left. We're going to take a break, but we'll come back. The fact is, though, that this is the law in - what - something like 22, 28 states already. And somehow or another, these institutions have accommodated themselves to that, so that's why people who say nationalizing the mandate isn't exactly what - it shouldn't be the big drama that's it's being made out to be. Just giving you that perspective.

CARY: I think it's because it got to a national level that that's why - I think everybody fully expects it to go to the Supreme Court.

And so, anyway, the reason that I think this is going to unify the Republican field is because it brings together everybody who thought this about the Obama administration. It confirms everybody's worst suspicions in terms of Big Brother, big government, anti-religion, anti-First Amendment.

All of the people who have been worried about this sort of thing are all going to come together on the right.

MARTIN: As I said, we can come back to this in a minute, but we need to take a short break now. With us in Washington, D.C. are Mary Kate Cary - that's who was speaking just now - columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. Also with us, Michelle Bernard, president and CEO of the independent conservative think tank, the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. And Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at the website, The Wise Latina Club.

We're going to take a short break and come right back. Please, stay with us on TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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