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Rick Santorum at odds with conservative base on issue of women in combat

at 10:33 AM ET, 02/10/2012

Rick Santorum may have committed one of the relatively few gaffes of his GOP presidential campaign by suggesting Thursday that women shouldn’t serve in combat roles because of “other types of emotions that are involved.”


Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania senator Santorum listens to a student's question at Oral Roberts University, Feb. 9, 2012, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Eric Gay - Associated Press)

Exactly what he meant by “other types of emotions” will be litigated in the hours and days ahead. But it’s also important to note that, even without the reference to emotions, Santorum’s position on the issue is at odds with most Americans and even the GOP base.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll from March 2011 showed Americans pretty well united behind the idea that women should be allowed to serve in combat roles, with nearly three-quarters on board.

(User poll: Will Santorum’s comments hurt his campaign?)

The poll showed 73 percent — about as close to a consensus as you can get in polling — favored the involvement of women in combat.

Even among voters labeling themselves “very conservative,” a strong majority — 58 percent — said they were in favor.

(Also interestingly, there wasn’t a big gender gap, with the numbers for men and women looking virtually the same.)

In other words, by taking a position against women in combat, Santorum is taking a stand against even a strong majority of the most ardent portion of the conservative base.

Now, is that the same as saying this is a major issue for Santorum? Not necessarily.

While his position may be at odds with most of his party, this issue isn’t exactly front-of-mind for many voters, and given the phasing out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there isn’t really a pressing news story that will drive the story line.

Though it should be noted that top Mitt Romney supporter and Virginia Gov Bob McDonnell tried to press the issue in his speech Friday at CPAC.

Referring to his Iraq veteran daughter, McDonnell noted that she was more than capable of facing combat.

“There were a couple of times when she’d call and tell me about the small arms fire that she’d encountered, either in her Humvee or in the Blackhawk,” McDonnell said (here’s video). “And yes, I did get a little bit emotional. But she didn’t. She got the job done.”

More than likely, Santorum will be forced to explain what his comments meant, and if he does a good job of it, the issue will go by the wayside. After all, it’s the comment about “emotions” that is the sticking point here.

But for the record, he’s not even with the vast majority of his fellow Republicans on this issue.

And for Santorum, that’s pretty rare.

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