For the second time in as many days, Rick Santorum waded into the issue of gay marriage, suggesting it was so important for children to have both a father and mother that an imprisoned father was preferable to a same-sex parent.
Citing the work of one anti-poverty expert, Santorum said, “He found that even fathers in jail who had abandoned their kids were still better than no father at all to have in their children’s lives.”
Allowing gays to marry and raise children, Santorum said, amounts to “robbing children of something they need, they deserve, they have a right to. You may rationalize that that isn’t true, but in your own life and in your own heart, you know it’s true.”
At a private boarding school Friday, the Republican presidential candidate’s voice grew emotional as he argued that only a man and woman should be able to marry. “Marriage is not a right,” Santorum said. “It’s a privilege that is given to society by society for a reason.... We want to encourage what is the best for children.”
The audience, half students and half local residents, reacted with snorts and applause. The students at Dublin School, which runs from ninth through 12th grade, were primed for Santorum’s visit, said headmaster Brad Bates. He said three students in the audience had gay parents, though they were not among those who asked about the topic.
Santorum’s comments once again drew attention away from his efforts to craft a blue-collar economic message. On Thursday he tangled with college students over same-sex marriage. In that encounter, a woman in the audience asked whether the right to happiness was grounds for gay people to marry, and Santorum responded by asking whether she believed more than two people could have that right. “If you’re not happy unless you’re married to five other people, is that OK?” he asked, prompting boos from the audience.
Santorum’s combative stance against gay rights -- particularly his remark during a 2005 interview that gay marriage is no different from “man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be” -- have distinguished him as a hero of those who oppose gay rights and brought him a passel of trouble from activists who support them. The former Pennsylvania senator has been a conservative crusader on social issues, which had far more political resonance in Iowa than in New Hampshire.
The candidate’s comments underscored a sharper tone in the campaign Friday, with much of the skirmishing among a handful of Republicans bidding for a second-place finish behind presidential front-runner Mitt Romney.
Jon Huntsman Jr. took after Ron Paul over a video ad apparently posted by supporters of the Texas congressman, leading Paul to condemn the spot. Newt Gingrich defended a statement regarding African Americans and food stamps, as well as his lucrative work for Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage guarantor.
Romney, reflecting his confidence in New Hampshire, wrapped up a two-day swing through South Carolina, the next state on the campaign calendar, before returning to the Granite State.
Back in Iowa, where the former Massachusetts governor eked out an eight-vote victory, questions surfaced about the accuracy of Tuesday night’s caucus count. State party officials, however, stood by the results.
Romney held a commanding lead in a New Hampshire poll released Friday by Manchester’s WMUR-TV, with 44%, compared with 20% for Paul, 8% for both Gingrich and Santorum, 7% for Huntsman and 1% for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. They will debate twice in New Hampshire this weekend, starting Saturday night in a two-hour session on ABC. On Sunday morning, they will appear on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
As for Tuesday, weather is not expected to affect turnout. Temperatures have been unseasonably warm, hitting the 30s and 40s Friday, with no snow forecast until after the primary.
At a rally in Conway, S.C., Romney kept his focus on President Obama, accusing him of “crony capitalism” and hostility to “free markets and free people.” Romney ignored the drop in the unemployment rate, to 8.5% nationally, and instead criticized the president for “racking up deficits over a trillion dollars a year.”
Romney left it to his traveling companion, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, to lead the attack on two rivals, Santorum and former House Speaker Gingrich. McCain faulted both men for pursuing congressional earmarks, saying that channeling federal dollars to favorite projects was the “gateway to corruption.”
Santorum waved away the criticism, saying he was simply doing his job.
Paul, who has taken a surprisingly relaxed approach to campaigning, finally arrived in New Hampshire on Friday afternoon. The third-place finisher in Iowa spoke for just about 15 minutes at an airport rally in Nashua, reprising his call for a more circumscribed foreign policy.
“We’re trying to salvage our Constitution and salvage our liberties,” he told the youthful, boisterous crowd of several hundred.
Though Paul has been absent from the state, he has kept a presence on the TV airwaves. But it was the online video that drew an angry response from Huntsman.
The spot, posted to YouTube by NHLiberty4Paul, cited Huntsman’s time as U.S. ambassador to China and used a picture of his adopted daughters to question his values.
“It’s just stupid,” Huntsman told college students in Concord. “If somebody wants to poke fun of me for speaking Chinese, that’s OK. What I object to is bringing forward pictures and videos of my adopted daughters, and suggesting there is some sinister motive there.”
Paul agreed. “All campaigns have to suffer these consequences when somebody puts something up with the candidate’s name on it,” he told reporters in Nashua. “Obviously it was way out of order.”
Huntsman, meanwhile, was savoring the endorsement of the Boston Globe, which reaches into the south of New Hampshire and, for the second time, snubbed Massachusetts’ ex-governor. (In 2008, the newspaper backed John McCain).
Huntsman took a swipe at Romney when asked about a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said corporations are people -- a notion that Romney has seconded. “Of course corporations are not people. Who would say such an outlandish thing?” he sarcastically said. “I can’t imagine anyone running for president would.”
Campaigning in Newport on Friday, Gingrich said he would be “perfectly happy” to release the terms of his Freddie Mac work if his former healthcare think-tank granted permission. Gingrich founded the Center for Health Transformation, which signed the lucrative contract, but since has severed his ties.
He also pushed back against claims that his statement regarding the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People had racist overtones. (He said he would visit an NAACP convention and urge delegates to demand paychecks rather than food stamps.) He called that interpretation “nuts.”
Times staff writers Robin Abcarian in Dublin, N.H., Seema Mehta in Newport, N.H., and Maeve Reston in Conway, S.C., contributed to this report.