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

This post appeared online and in print in The Washington Times on February 9, 2012. 

By Seth McLaughlin
The Washington Times

It’s no longer just the economy, stupid.

Supplanted in recent election cycles by economic concerns, social issues such as gay marriage, abortion and religious freedom have elbowed their way back into the political debate in the 2012 presidential race.

From President Obama’s decision to mandate contraception coverage and a fight over funding for Planned Parenthood to a California courtdecision this week in support of same-sex marriage, “values voter” issues are suddenly back in the spotlight.

The hot-button issues have provided Republican candidates new opportunities to criticize the Obama administration — and one another — as they look to curry favor with a powerful voting bloc during a slow part of the nomination calendar.

“Social issues continue to play a major role in the GOP nominating process,” said Darrell M. West, director of governance studies at theBrookings Institution. “Even in a year where the economy is the top issue, social and cultural issues may decide the GOP nominee.”

John Feehery, a GOP strategist, said the candidates are making a play for a key voting bloc.

“The Catholic vote is the swing vote, especially the Catholic women vote,” Mr. Feehery said, alluding to the fact that Catholics make up more than a quarter of the national electorate and, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, increasingly identify themselves as Republican.

The GOP candidates pounced on the Obama administration’s decision against exempting Catholic institutions that want out of a mandate in the new health care law requiring them to carry insurance plans that cover contraceptives for women without a co-pay.

Read more at The Washington Times.

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