Santorum says he backs working women, hints CPAC poll was rigged

Rick Santorum, who is enjoying a surge in fundraising and attention after winning three states last week in the battle for the GOP presidential nomination, pushed back Sunday against the idea that his socially conservative views will alienate working women.

The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania also minimized Mitt Romney’s victory in Saturday’s straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, implying that the Romney forces had somehow rigged the win.

“For years, Ron Paul's won those because he just trucks in a lot of people, pays for their ticket, and they come in and vote and then they leave,” Santorum told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “I don't try to rig straw polls.”

“Do you think Governor Romney rigged it?” Crowley asked.

“Well, you have to talk to the Romney campaign,” said Santorum, who Tuesday won Missouri's primary and caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado. “We've heard all sorts of things.”

“Rick Santorum has a history of making statements that aren't grounded in the truth,” said  Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “Yesterday Mitt Romney won the CPAC straw poll and won a separate nationwide survey of conservatives conducted by CPAC organizers. Also, Mitt Romney won the Maine caucuses.”

Santorum, who did not campaign in Maine, said he was satisfied with his third place finish in the state. He said he expects to compete strongly in Arizona and Michigan, which hold primaries Feb. 28, thanks in part to the more than $3 million he raised this week, a stunning amount for a campaign that has so far been run on a shoe string. He said on “Meet the Press” that he plans to release his tax returns early next week.

Many pundits have suggested that Santorum’s deeply conservative views on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, contraception and working women could present formidable obstacles in attracting moderate and independent voters if he were to become the GOP nominee.

As an example, “Meet the Press,” host David Gregory read a passage from Santorum’s 2005 book “It Takes a Family,” which was written as a response to Hillary Clinton’s 1996 bestseller “It Takes a Village.”

“ 'The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishment are the key to happiness,’ ” read Gregory.

In response, Santorum said that his own mother worked, and earned more than his father -- “somewhat unusual in the 1950s and 1960s.” He said that section of the book was co-written by his wife, Karen, a former nurse and lawyer who left the workforce to stay home with the couple’s seven children.

When his wife quit working, she “felt very much like society and those radical feminists that I was referring to were not affirming her choice," Santorum said. "All I’m saying is … we should affirm both choices. ... That’s what the book says, and I stand by what I said.”

Santorum has often touted himself as the only uncompromised conservative in the race, with a record of working to shrink government.

But while in the Senate he reached across the aisle to work with many high-profile Democrats, including Joe Lieberman" href="http://www.latimes.com/topic/politics/joe-lieberman-hpp2355.topic">Joe Lieberman, Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Crowley played a 2006 TV spot cut for Santorum’s losing Senate reelection campaign. In it, he held up a newspaper and said: “This paper, they say ‘The real problem with Rick Santorum is he’s too liberal.’ They didn’t like my legislation calling for a raise in the minimum wage. And the White House probably called me a lot of things, but I fought their efforts to cut Amtrak funding.”

Santorum said he voted many times against increasing the minimum wage, but supports the concept. As for giving federal funds to Amtrak, he said, the issue was important to his Pennsylvania constituents, but he has since changed his mind: “Amtrak funding would be one of those things that’s just going to have to go.”

Crowley asked Santorum to explain why it was acceptable for him to have supported a program that was important to his state, but not acceptable for Romney to have embraced universal health care when he governed Massachusetts only to oppose the federal version that President Obama signed into law.

“And yet Mitt Romney is criticized by you and others when he says, ‘Listen, I did what was best for my state when I … signed healthcare into law,” said Crowley. “It was not a federal thing. … He was representing his state at the time. What’s the difference here?”

“It’s very different than having the government mandate that you buy health insurance,” said Santorum. “That’s a very different thing than a transportation program.”