Hot-button social issues burst back onto radar in GOP race

  • William Temple waves a three cornered hat for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) while he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)William Temple waves a three cornered hat for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) while he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Audience members listen as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Audience members listen as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • William Temple waves a three cornered hat for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) while he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)William Temple waves a three cornered hat for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) while he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Carol Crosby of Ukiah, CA listens as Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Carol Crosby of Ukiah, CA listens as Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • A security guard stands back stage as Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)A security guard stands back stage as Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gives thumbs up after  speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gives thumbs up after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Former Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann takes the stage to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Former Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann takes the stage to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Audience members applaud as Former Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Audience members applaud as Former Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Former Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Former Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Former Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann, left, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), second from right, are interviewed while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Former Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann, left, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), second from right, are interviewed while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • An audience member listens to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)  speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)An audience member listens to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) departs after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) departs after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Former Presidential Candidate Rick Perry takes the stage to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Former Presidential Candidate Rick Perry takes the stage to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Former Presidential Candidate Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Former Presidential Candidate Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Former Presidential Candidate Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Former Presidential Candidate Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Actor Kirk Cameron takes the stage to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Actor Kirk Cameron takes the stage to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Actor Kirk Cameron speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Actor Kirk Cameron speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Members of the audience watch as Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli accepts the "Defender of the Constitution Award" from National Rifle Association President David Keene at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Members of the audience watch as Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli accepts the "Defender of the Constitution Award" from National Rifle Association President David Keene at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli speaks while accepting the "Defender of the Constitution Award" from National Rifle Association President David Keene at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli speaks while accepting the "Defender of the Constitution Award" from National Rifle Association President David Keene at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, left, speaks while accepting the "Defender of the Constitution Award" from National Rifle Association President David Keene, right, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, left, speaks while accepting the "Defender of the Constitution Award" from National Rifle Association President David Keene, right, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, left, accepts the "Defender of the Constitution Award" from National Rifle Association President David Keene, center, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, left, accepts the "Defender of the Constitution Award" from National Rifle Association President David Keene, center, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, Thursday, February 9, 2012. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
  • Former Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain share a laugh after running into each other backstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 9, 2012, at the Marriott Wardman Park in D.C. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Former Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain share a laugh after running into each other backstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 9, 2012, at the Marriott Wardman Park in D.C. The annual political conference draws thousands of supporters and prominent conservative figures. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
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Mr. Romney pushed back Wednesday, vowing to eliminate the rule that “compels religious institutions to violate the tenets of their own faith.”

“We expect these attacks from President Obama and his liberal friends. But from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, it’s a clear indication of desperation from their campaigns,” said Ryan Williams, Romney spokesman.

In many ways, social issues never completely faded away. The candidates have argued that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, should be overturned and have argued in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Aside from Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the fourth candidate in the race, the candidates have fawned over the idea of appointing judges to the bench that are cast in the same mold as Supreme Court Justices Samuel Anthony Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Religious leaders have struggled to coalesce around a single alternative to Mr. Romney, whose commitment to pro-life issues and traditional marriage have been long doubted by social and religious conservatives — including a small slice of whom are simply unwilling to vote for a Mormon.

But Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion political action committee, predicted that Mr. Santorum’s stunning sweep of one primary and two caucuses Tuesday would shake up the 2012 campaign.

Santorum has the upper hand right now” among social conservatives, she said. “Social-issue voters really are the motor for campaigns. They will stay up all night, be on the phones all day, and they don’t give up.”

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