After a lackluster finish in which he will finish fourth or fifth in New Hampshire, Rick Santorum told supporters, “We knew it would be tough.”
A week ago, he nearly beat Mitt Romney in Iowa, a placing that should have made him a genuine contender in the state. Instead, his campaign in the Granite State may be most remembered for the exchanges he had with college students over same-sex marriage and the occasional heckler challenging his stances on gay rights. (In his final appearance on Monday, protesters chanted “Bigot! Bigot!”)
By the weekend, when polls showed his support stalling out, he attempted to soften his message on LGBT issues, telling David Gregory during the NBC News debate that if he had a son that came out, “I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it.”
In a state heavy in independents and moderates, Santorum flopped. Anxious to win these voters, Democrats once downplayed their support of gay rights. This cycle, Republicans may find that it makes more sense to downplay their opposition to them.
This election may show that it is no longer clear cut that strident opposition to same-sex marriage and gays in the military plays well even in a Republican primary. Santorum won the caucus, but other candidates skidded with such Christian conservative messaging. Rick Perry was the only candidate to openly bash LGBT rights — “gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can no longer openly celebrate Christmas — but it landed with a thud.