Santorum gets 'Christian,' not Catholic, surge

Trust me, I realize that the Iowa GOP caucuses are getting really complicated for journalists. I mean, you've got this libertarian guy who is a hero for many pro-lifers.

You have the Mormon guy who has been trying and trying to win over his fair share of evangelical Protestants voters. Problem is, some think he's too Mormon. Others think he isn't Mormon enough. Sorry 'bout that.

You have this recent convert to Catholicism who is a hero to lots of conservatives who aren't Catholics.

You have this United Methodist guy who lots of people seem to think is a power prophecy charismatic or something.

You have this other Catholic who is so conservative, when it comes to the specifics of his Catholic faith, that some journalists keep calling him an evangelical.

'Tis a puzzlement.

I understand the confusion. This is hard work. Still, there is absolutely no need to journalists to write paragraphs such as the following, which come from a recent touch-all-the-bases Iowa roundup in USA Today.

So here is the context. How to describe the conflicting views that evangelical voters -- there are no other voters in Iowa, of course -- have of Newt Gingrich, the Catholic convert, and Rick Santorum, the Catholic conservative who is now surging (we are told these days) with a slice of the state's evangelical flock? Also, how to describe the unique scrutiny faced by Mitt Romney?

Read carefully:

There was a time when a Catholic candidate faced similar scrutiny among evangelicals. Santorum, who is Catholic but has appealed primarily to Christian voters, says he occasionally gets a comment on the trail. "I've had it mentioned to me a couple of times," he says. Gingrich converted to Catholicism, the faith of his third wife, Callista, in 2009.

"The only concern I've heard about Gingrich's Catholicism is evangelicals hoping he's had a sincere, redemptive moment," says Steve Deace, an influential Christian talk radio host in Iowa. "Back in the day, evangelicals were concerned Catholics would take orders from the pope. Now, given how many liberal Catholic politicians there are, evangelicals want a Catholic who actually does."

Say what?

Gentle readers, what do you think the copy desk at USA Today -- a skilled crew, in my experience -- was thinking when the pros who work there signed off on this sequence of words?

Santorum, who is Catholic but has appealed primarily to Christian voters. ...

Here are a few logical options:

* Does this mean that Santorum is Catholic, but is not appealing to Catholics, but to "Christians"? The implication is that Catholics are not Christians. Say what?

* Does this mean that, although Santorum is Catholic, he is not focusing his campaign on Catholics in particular, but on reaching voters who are "Christians," broadly defined (presumably including Catholics and evangelical Protestants)? I sure hope that was the goal.

* Does this mean that the USA Today pros got so tired of writing about "evangelicals" that the editors just broke down and used "Christians" (as opposed to Catholics) instead of the word "evangelicals"?

Oh well. I now return you to the previously scheduled journalistic discussion about this topic: Why evangelical voters are so bigoted that most of them only plan to vote for Romney in the general election.

Or something like that.

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