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Headline from the Detroit Free Press website: “New Polls Show Rick Santorum Leading Mitt Romney in Michigan Primary Race.”

That’s the welcome Romney received when he returned to campaign in his home state. The Free Press reports that an MRG Michigan Poll, conducted with Lansing-based Inside Michigan Politics, “showed Santorum up 43 percent-33 percent on Romney.” And that Mitchell Research, a polling firm in East Lansing, “released a survey showing Santorum ahead of Romney 34 percent to 25 percent.”

Which prompts me to ask my Republican friends: What are you smoking? Are you seriously considering picking Rick Santorum to be the Republican Party’s nominee in 2012? He’d be worse than Newt Gingrich.

Santorum brags about his electability. But, remember, this is the man who, after two terms in the Senate, lost his 2006 bid for re-election in blue-collar Pennsylvania by 18 points. Why? Because he was so extreme on the social issues – and still is.

Look at today. With all the serious challenges facing this country – on jobs, housing, health care, immigration, education, Iran, Syria – what is Rick Santorum talking about? Birth control! He was quick to support Catholic bishops in their opposition to President Obama’s policy of providing all women access to contraception, free of charge. Because he, like the bishops, believes contraception is morally wrong, no matter who pays for it. And he argues that states should have the power to ban contraception. That’s right, to make birth control illegal.

But Santorum goes further. He thinks contraception is dangerous. Asked about birth control in a 2006 interview, he said: “I don’t think it works. I think it’s harmful to women. I think it’s harmful to our society to have a society that says that sex outside of marriage is something that should be encouraged or tolerated, particularly among the young. And I think we’ve seen very, very harmful long-term consequences to our society. Birth control, to me, enables that, and I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for our country.”

Can we dismiss that as just some careless comment made six years ago? No way. As reported by conservative commentator Matt Lewis, just last October Santorum promised: “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. … It’s not OK because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Welcome to the emerging Republican Party platform for 2012: No birth control. No sex outside of marriage. And no sex inside of marriage, except for the purpose of procreation. Now, it’s perfectly acceptable for Rick Santorum to hold and preach those beliefs about sexuality, no matter how medieval. But he’s running for president of the United States, not for pope. Is that what the American people want to hear? And is that really what Republicans want to campaign on?

What’s even more disturbing is the fact that Santorum’s crusade against contraception doesn’t stand alone. It’s part of his long-time war against women. In his 2005 book, “It Takes a Family,” for example, Santorum scolds working mothers for using the excuse of having to help support the family only because it “provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home.”

So many women are working outside the home today, charges Santorum, not because they have to, but because “the radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.” Asked recently by David Gregory on “Meet the Press” to explain or defend that statement, Santorum – in a stunning display of masculine courage – blamed his wife for helping to write that paragraph.

But it was Santorum himself, not his wife, who dumped on women yet again last week when he expressed concerns that “emotions” might prevent women from handling a greater role in combat under new Pentagon rules. He later backtracked, claiming he was talking about men’s emotions, not women’s. But he’s wrong on either count. Men and women have already served side by side in many combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where, according to data compiled by icasualties.org, more than 100 female soldiers have given their lives.

Everybody knows that women vote in higher numbers than men. So if Republicans want to nominate a candidate who alienates most women, be my guest. Barack Obama could carry all 50 states.

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