Does Rick Santorum Have a Problem With the Ladies?

Rick Santorum is trying to find a way to appeal to women voters, and it might be too late to do so.

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Rick Santorum is trying to find a way to appeal to women voters, and he may not be able to do enough.

If Rick Santorum wants to win the GOP presidential nomination, he's got to do a better job with women, and his campaign knows it.

In his concession speech in Michigan Tuesday following his pair of primary losses, the former Pennsylvania senator took the time to praise several women in his life, most notably for the first time, his mother.

"I grew up with a very strong mom, someone who was a professional person who taught me a lot of things about [sic] how to balancing work and family, and doing it well, and doing it with a big heart and commitment," he said. He also praised her for getting a college education in the 1930s and eventually a graduate degree in nursing.

"She worked all of my childhood years. She balanced time, as my dad did, working different schedules, and she was a very unusual person at that time," Santorum said. "She was a professional who actually made more money than her husband."

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The speech seemed to reflect Santorum's recognition that his recent comments regarding the value of a college degree and issues regarding women, such as contraceptive use, work outside the home and military combat, have harmed his campaign.

A Michigan exit poll showed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney garnered support from 43 percent of women voters compared to 38 percent for Santorum. With Romney notching such a narrow victory there, the margin among women is enough to be the difference. A poll taken a week before the Arizona contest showed women picking Romney over Santorum by a 2-to-1 margin.

"In this primary, what we are seeing is consistent with Rick Santorum's pretty conservative statements regarding women's roles and women's issues, even among Republicans. There's no question that he's aware of the fact that he's not doing as well among women as he is among men," says Jennifer Lawless, director of American University's Women and Politics Institute.

Reacting to a recent announcement by the Obama administration, Santorum told CNN that he had "concerns" about women in combat.

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"I think that could be a very compromising situation where - where people naturally, you know, may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved," he said, later clarifying that he meant men's emotions about their female colleagues.

Last year, he told a Christian blog that it's not okay to use contraception.

"It's not okay. It's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be," Santorum told Caffeinated Thoughts. "If it's not for purposes of procreation, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women."

Contraception has recently emerged as campaign issue thanks to a recent decision by the Obama administration.

When it comes to working women, like his mother, a book he authored in 2005 seems to contradict his recent praise for her.

"For some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home," he wrote, adding that "radical feminists" had a hand in convincing women that professional accomplishments were the key to happiness.

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"It is one thing if it's one statement, it's another thing if it's a broad range of statements that tap into the same problem and that's where Rick Santorum finds himself," Lawless says.

Not only is Santorum alienating women writ-large, she adds, but conservative women as well.

"In a lot of ways, the discussion about women's roles and traditional family arrangements and the use of contraception have taken us back many, many decades," Lawless says.

Despite his campaign's recognition of the problem, it may not be possible to right the ship, she adds.

"I think his convictions might actually be anti-contraception, deep-seeded traditional family values and questioning whether or not women belong in the military," Lawless says. "And instead of moving away from those positions, all he can do is throw a symbolic bone to women by saying, 'Hey, I think my mom was great.'"