Rick Santorum, a Catholic, has finally won the Catholic vote in a Republican primary. It happened Saturday in Louisiana, where he also snagged the majority of evangelical voters.
Overall, as you no doubt know, Santorum defeated Mitt Romney by a 22-point spread, winning 49 percent of the vote to Romney’s 27 percent. Newt Gingrich, a Georgian, who counted on strong support in the South, was disappointed by his 16 percent showing.
Like all the Southern primaries, religion played a significant factor. Once again, white evangelical voters catapulted Santorum to the top and showed their distaste for Romney, a Mormon. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 6 in 10 of Saturday’s voters were white evangelicals.
But to religion and politics watchers like me, the most interesting shift happened among Catholics. Republican Catholic voters tend to be more moderate than evangelical voters and, therefore, have backed Romney over Santorum.
But in Louisiana, only 3 in 10 Catholic voters supported Romney. Santorum garnered 46 percent of their vote, while Gingrich, also a Catholic, only drew 18 percent. This means that for the first time, Santorum drew nearly as many Catholic votes as he did Protestant.
A huge milestone for Santorum? Not really, as he was expected to win Louisiana.
Has he turned a corner with Catholics? Probably not, though time will tell. More likely it simply means that Catholic voters in Louisiana are more conservative than the Catholic voters in previous primaries.
Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.