Rick Santorum, who shocked the political world by coming within a whisker of winning the Iowa Republican caucuses, has long touted his pro-Israel and anti-Iran policies on the campaign trail. But Santorum still faces a tough road ahead as he fights to prove he belongs on the national stage.
His ultraconservative ideology, which includes an anti-gay agenda, opposition to abortion rights and questioning of the theory of evolution, has long been a barrier distancing him from the Jewish electorate.
Santorum’s supporters are touting the former American senator’s outreach to Jewish organizations in fighting for religious freedom and combating anti-Semitism despite their differences on family and domestic issues.
“He takes his religion very seriously,” said Barbara Ledeen, a former Senate staffer who worked closely with Santorum. referring to his Catholic beliefs. “He always told me he believes that Catholics and Jews are the canaries in the coal mine, warning against religious prejudice.”
Jewish Democrats wasted little time slamming the newly minted top-tier GOP candidate, calling him out of step with American Jews.
“Behind Door No. 2 is [Santorum], the most anti-choice, socially conservative candidate in the field,” said David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, adding that Santorum would “ban homosexual activity.”
After battling front-runner Mitt Romney to a virtual dead heat in Iowa, Santorum faces a struggle to build national credibility as the campaign moves on to New Hampshire and beyond, analysts say.
“In the next week or two, he will be getting a closer look and will perhaps be subject to negative ads,” said Tim Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa. “The question for many voters will be: Is Santorum electable, or is he too conservative to win over independents and challenge [President Obama]?”
Santorum won 25% of the vote in Iowa and lost to Romney by just eight votes. All but declaring victory, Santorum vowed to fight across the country as a conservative alternative to Romney. The next battle is in New Hampshire on January 10, followed by South Carolina on January 21.
Santorum’s position on the right wing of the field could be bolstered if Texas Governor Rick Perry drops out of the race. After his poor showing in Iowa, Perry returned home to “reassess” his campaign. Michelle Bachmann threw in the towel after getting just 5% in Iowa.