WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans don't share Rick Santorum's absolutist take on abortion. He's out of step on women in combat. He questions the values of the two-thirds of mothers who work. He's even troubled by something as commonplace as birth control — for married couples.
Even among a Republican presidential field eager to please religious conservatives, Santorum's ideas stand out.
A Catholic father of seven whose kids are home-schooled, Santorum may seem to wear his conservatism as comfortably as his sweater vests. But he's walked a careful path, keeping the more provocative opinions that helped sink his re-election to the Senate in 2006 mostly out of his presidential campaign.
That is until he leaped to the top of the polls, alongside Mitt Romney.
Now Santorum's record on social issues is getting a closer look. On several matters, he's outside the Republican mainstream. And if he becomes the GOP nominee, some of his ideas would probably be surprising, even puzzling, to general election voters.
— Santorum: Says he wouldn't try to take away the pill or condoms. But he believes states should be free to ban them if they want. He argues that the Supreme Court erred when it ruled in 1965 that married Americans have a right to privacy that includes the use of contraceptives.
Birth control, even within marriage, violates his beliefs as a Roman Catholic. Last year Santorum told the Christian blog Caffeinated Thoughts that as president he would warn the nation about "the dangers of contraception" and the permissive culture it encourages. "Many of Christian faith have said, 'Well, that's OK. Contraception is OK,'" he said. "It's not OK. It's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. ... If it's not for purposes of procreation, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women."
On Friday Santorum told "CBS This Morning" that as a senator he supported federal money for birth control services but he also wants to promote abstinence "as a healthier alternative."
— Catholics: Despite the church's teachings, 84 percent of U.S. Catholics believe a person who uses artificial birth control can still be a good Catholic, according to a CBS News poll. And 89 percent of Catholic women favor expanding access to birth control for those who can't afford it, the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found.
— All Americans: Almost all say contraception is OK. Three-fourths of U.S. women have taken the pill, the CBS News poll says, and other studies show nearly all sexually active women have used some type of birth control. A mere 8 percent of Americans think birth control is morally wrong, according to a Pew Research Center poll this month. Four in 10 say it's not even a moral issue these days.
— Santorum: His 2005 book, "It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good," suggests parents in two-income families aren't doing what's best for the kids. Too often, he writes, both parents work when the family could get by on one salary: "For some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home." He described it as a sad situation created by "radical feminists" who undermined the traditional family by "convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness."
Santorum's unsuccessful re-election bid took a hit from a rival's TV ad featuring a working mother challenging the senator "to come to my house at the end of the month when we're doing our bills and tell me how we can live on one income." Santorum recently tried to deflect questions about the book by saying that his wife, who left her nursing career to care for their children, helped write that section because she felt her decision to become a stay-at-home mom wasn't valued by society. He predicted a Santorum administration would have "plenty of working moms."
— All Americans: Two-thirds of married mothers are working or looking for jobs, according to the Labor Department. Like Santorum, most Americans don't think it's best for children when moms work full time; they're divided over whether staying at home or working part time is ideal. But more moms are working for economic reasons than personal satisfaction. Half of full-time working mothers would rather work part time, and a third would prefer to stay home, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center poll. Only about 1 in 10 of the moms working full-time says it's an ideal situation.
WOMEN IN COMBAT
— Santorum: Spoke out against women in combat when the Pentagon announced plans to allow them to serve closer to the front. He says he worries that fighting men will be distracted by their "natural instinct" to protect women. He also says the differences in physical abilities between men and women aren't being taken into account.
— Republicans: Six in 10 would allow women to serve in units that engage in close combat; about a third are opposed, a Quinnipiac University poll last year found.
— All Americans: Slightly more favorable toward women in combat than Republicans.
GAYS IN THE MILITARY
— Santorum: Wants to reinstate the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that banned openly gay service members. In a GOP debate in Florida, Santorum said lifting the ban was social engineering and "sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military." He added: "Keep it to yourself whether you're a heterosexual or a homosexual."
— Republicans: Santorum's party is divided on the issue. A CBS News poll gave a 48-41 edge to supporters of gays serving openly in the military. Republicans who felt strongly about the issue were twice as likely to support gays in the military than to oppose them, however.
— All Americans: A big majority — 68 percent — favor allowing gays to serve openly, the same poll found.
— Santorum: Favors amending the Constitution to ban abortion. He says that human life begins at conception and doctors who perform abortions should be charged as criminals. In his book, he compared women who have abortions to 19th-century slaveholders, writing that "unlike abortion today, in most states even the slaveholder did not have the unlimited right to kill his slave." In the past, Santorum supported allowing abortions in cases of rape or incest, but he now says no to those exceptions.
— Republicans: Although united in the belief that abortion should be illegal in most cases — two-thirds say so — an overwhelming majority of Republicans are willing to make some exceptions. Only a fifth say abortion should always be illegal, according to AP-GfK polling in August.
— All Americans: Even less likely to say there should be no abortions at all — 16 percent support a total ban. About half of Americans want abortion to be legal in most cases, and almost as many say it should be mostly illegal.