- - Monday, May 21, 2012

Mitt Romney begins the general election campaign at a disadvantage among female voters. Mr. Romney’s trouble with female voters is explained in part by his inability to win over conservative women. To attract their support and votes, Mr. Romney should follow Rick Santorum’s example.

Despite huge disadvantages in money and campaign infrastructure, Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, shocked the political world by winning 10 primaries and the Iowa caucuses. Even more shocking to mainstream political opinion was that Mr. Santorum easily won female voters in many primary states.

Conservative women rallied to Mr. Santorum because he is an unapologetic Catholic and conservative who boldly lives his values. He champions the rights of the most innocent and vulnerable among us - the elderly, unborn children and those with disabilities.

A March Washington Post-ABC Newspoll found that two-thirds of Republican and Republican-leaning women had a favorable opinion of Mr. Santorum, against just 18 percent who saw him unfavorably - a “favorability surplus” that nearly doubled Mr. Romney‘s.

AMarch New York Times article titled “On the right, Santorum has women’s vote” covered aSantorum campaign event in Louisiana in which the event’s host asked the audience what they admired about the candidate.The answers were revealing:”Seven kids! Seven kids!” “Man of faith,” “Honest and honorable,” “He’s for life” and “Only married once” were among the responses.

Voters learn a lot about candidates by watching them with their families. Besides a voting record, there is nothing more telling about the leadership qualities of a candidate than the way he leads and loves his family.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Santorumspoke often of his son Gabriel, who passed away as an infant, and his youngest daughter, Bella, who has severe disabilities.

Through Bella, who was admitted to the hospital during the campaign, voters saw Mr. Santorum practicing his devotion to the dignity of every human life. Mr. Santorum articulated clearly and passionately how his children helped reaffirm the intrinsic value of all human life. His unabashed and public devotion to his large family was striking.

Mr. Santorum’s personal biography may have won over as many voters as any of his official policy positions. Mr. Santorum often seemed like the only candidate guided foremost not by the latest polling numbers, but instead by sincere conviction and commitment to live the values he professes.

There are lessons Mr. Romney can learn from Mr. Santorum to narrow the gender gap he faces.

The Romney campaign has been smart to deploy the candidate’s wife, Ann, to speak on Mr. Romney’s behalf. Mrs. Romney, as the mother of five children, brings warmth and approachability to the campaign. But Mr. Romney should not leave all his outreach to female voters to his wife.

Mr. Santorum boldly connected the disintegration of America’s families with the economy, andMr. Romney should take up that mantle by discussing how the breakdown of the family undermines economic mobility.

As the father of five and grandfather of 16, Mr. Romney did much more than balance budgets and manage successful companies. And voters want to hear about it. They want to hear the stories that tell them about Mr. Romney, the husband and father.

Much has been made of Mr. Romney’s conversion to the pro-life position. Pro-lifers are eager to embrace converts to their cause, and Mr. Romney is part of a long line of prominent pro-life converts, from former President Ronald Reagan and former abortionist Bernard Nathanson to model Kathy Ireland and former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson.

Mr. Romney calls himself “firmly pro-life” and says he would be “delighted” to sign a federal ban on abortion ifRoe v. Wadewere overturned. Those are great positions, but many voters want to know more about what prompted Mr. Romney’s change of heart and how that change would be reflected in his policies.

Many voters want to know that Mr. Romney will not compromise the lives of unborn children during tough budget negotiations, including in debates over the funding of Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion chain. They also want to know that he will prioritize marriage and family in his administration.

The conventional wisdom holds that Mr. Santorum’s candidacy weakened Mr. Romney by drawing out the primary. But Mr. Santorum’s success can serve the nominee-in-waiting if he learns the right lessons. Perhap Mr. Romney already has, the latest New York Times poll has him up over Obama among women.

Conservative women are excited to hear more from Mr. Romney about his priorities and values. They, like all voters, seek a president able and unafraid to stand up for life and family.

Lila Rose is the founder and president of Live Action.