Despite the best efforts of Rick Santorum, so far in this early primary cycle, Mitt Romney is winning over the ultimate swing voters–Catholics.
In Iowa, Romney won 10 of the 25 most Catholic counties in the state. In New Hampshire, the Catholic vote which represents 35% of the state broke in favor of Romney over Ron Paul (the 2nd place finish) by a margin of 45% to 17%. And most recently, Romney has received the endorsement of five former ambassadors to the Holy See.
Thomas Patrick Melady, Raymond L. Flynn, James Nicholson, Francis Rooney and Mary Ann Glendon all signed the letter, which applauded Romney for realizing “that sound economic and social policies must rest on a healthy culture.” The ambassadors called Romney the “best qualified” candidate for the nation’s highest office. These ambassadors have served under presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
The Catholic vote has been the largest swing vote since the last half of the 20th century to the present. While there is a divide amongst Hispanic Catholics and the descendants of European Catholics, the vote overall total has been fairly split over recent elections. According to media exit polls, Obama won the Catholic vote 54%-45% and won the White House 53%-46%. George W. Bush won the Catholic vote in 2004, 52%-47% and won the Presidency 51%-48%. These models hold true going back to 1972, when Richard Nixon won the Catholic vote 54%-44% and won the popular vote 61%-38% nationally.
Catholics make up is 72 million strong: 59% European American, 32% Hispanic, 4% Black, and 5% other. Catholics voters make up a large portion in several swing states including Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Florida, and New Mexico.
Interestingly enough, while the Catholic vote is large, it is not baited as often as other religious groups. A seven point swing in the Catholic vote in favor of the Republicans would be the same difference as an 80 point swing in the Jewish vote in terms of real numbers. Essentially, the Catholic vote is as large as the Evangelical vote but hardly has the same clout or receives the same amount of attention as the Evangelical right.
If Romney can win a majority of Catholics in the primary and carry this onward into the general, the Catholic vote could be the special ingredient in the new GOP majority