Can social conservative Santorum win over women?

(CBS News) One important question for the Republican candidates in the presidential campaign is how to get female voters on their side.

Social issues have come to the forefront in this presidential campaign, and Rick Santorum has capitalized on that to win three states. However, the question now is how Santorum walks the line to continue to galvanize his base on social issues while shoring up support with women and independents.

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In Michigan this week, Santorum talked about women, and specifically the three he said have been role models: his wife, his daughter, and his 93-year-old mother -- a nurse he described as a pioneering working mom.

"She was a very unusual person at that time," Santorum said. "She was a professional who actually made more money than her husband. I grew up with a very strong mom."

It's all part of an effort to connect with, and win over, women voters.

As Santorum surged in the polls with his strongly conservative views, he also could be facing something of a gender gap.

In Michigan, he lost among women voters by five points, which helped give Romney the win.

On "CBS This Morning," Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive officer and former California Senate candidate, said all issues are women's issues in this election, but candidates make a difference with voters by their tone.

"A lot of this actually is about tone," she said. "Do candidates reach out to women and treat them and their views with respect? Do they pigeonhole them or cubbyhole them as single issue voters or do they view them as full participants in the society?"

Fiorina, now vice chair of the Republican Senatorial Committee, conintued, "Women care a lot about compassion. The goal here is to lift people out of poverty, as many as possible. I think it's a question of tone and I think it's a question of making sure that, to women, as well as to men, candidates are talking about the whole range of issues that matter to a woman, to her family and to her community.

(Watch Fiorina's full discussion on "CBS This Morning" in the video below.)

Santorum isn't watering down his views on those issues. On Thursday, he accused Romney of being insincere on social issues, such as the controversial Obama administration decision that would force religious organizations and institutions like Catholic hospitals to provide employees birth control - even if it violates their religious beliefs.

Romney stumbled on the issue in an interview Wednesday when he seemed to indicate he opposed a Senate bill that would have exempted religious employers from being forced to provide employees birth control.

Romney quickly corrected himself, saying he had misunderstood the reporter's question. He added, "I clearly want to have religious exemptions from Obamacare."

Indeed, on many social issues Romney's views aren't that different from Santorum's. But Santorum has taken a more forceful position on issues like abortion, prompting some conservatives to worry those views could hurt him with independent women voters.

In a Cincinnati radio interview, Santorum bristled at that suggestion his views would hurt him.

"I didn't lose because of women," he said.

The announcer said, "Here's a question I have -- "

Santorum said, "Stop right there. Let's stop right here. ... What I talked about was my personal beliefs."

Santorum has seen his numbers rise when he talks about his blue-collar roots and aligns himself with the working man and woman. Of course, the challenge for him now going forward is to continue doing saying what he means, while also reaching out to women voters.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

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