FLORENCE, S.C. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry referred at least twice to Rick Santorum’s Catholic faith Tuesday as he criticized the former Pennsylvania senator’s record as a conservative, an intriguing signal to send in a heavily evangelical Protestant state.
Perry, who an evangelical Christian who is in a battle with Santorum was asked by reporters to contrast his record with Santorum’s.
“Rick Santorum is a good man,” Perry said. “He is a good father. He is a good Catholic. But he hasn't always been a good conservative.” He ripped Santorum, a noted opponent of abortion access and same-sex marriage for voting to confirm “pro-abortion” Justice Sonya Sotomayor to the U.S. Court of Appeals several years ago, putting the liberal jurist on track to her present position on the Supreme Court.
“On the fiscal side, Rick, he has a horrid record when it comes to earmarks and defending spending,” Perry said. “The idea that you can vote for all those earmarks and call yourself a fiscal conservative is just ludicrous on its face. That is why we have a tea party today...So like I said, good man, good father and husband, good Catholic, but not always a good conservative.”
South Carolina is one of the most religious states in the nation, measured by attendance at worship services, according to various surveys. Yet only 10 percent of South Carolinians identify themselves as Roman Catholics – one of the lowest percentages in the nation, according to a massive 2010 Gallup Poll analysis of religious beliefs across the nation.
Now, there’s nothing especially nasty about mentioning Santorum’s religion, and it is factually true that he's Catholic. But the polls show that both Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also a Catholic, are leading Perry overall and among Christian conservative voters.
Maybe the man from Paint Creek, Tex., who often talks about how he accepted Christ as his savior at age 14, just wanted to make a subtle cultural connection with his fellow southerners.