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early and often 2012

Mitt Can Run, But Not Hide, From Social Issues

VERNON HILLS, IL - MARCH 18:  Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a town hall-style meeting at the Sullivan Community Center Gymnasium March 18, 2012 in Vernon Hills, IL. Romney is campaigning in Illinois three days before that state?s primary elections , when 54 GOP delegates are up for grabs. With Romney in the lead on delegates, fellow candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum continues to compete for the 1,444 necessary to secure the nomination before the last primary, in Utah on June 26.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney continued to focus on the economy today as he campaigned through Illinois ahead of tomorrow's crucial primary. But those pesky social issues kept on cropping up.

During a speech at Bradley University in Peoria, Romney fielded questions from female students about his stance on contraception. One student told Romney she knew he was in favor of the "the pursuit of happiness," adding: "You know what would make me happy? Free birth control." Another student asked Romney where "millions of women would go" without Planned Parenthood.

Mitt responded:

“Well they can go wherever they'd like to go. This is a free society. But here’s what I’d say, which is the federal government should not tax these people to pay for Planned Parenthood … The idea of the federal government funding Planned Parenthood I’m going to say no, we’re going to stop that.”

Rick Santorum has, of course, taken almost the exact opposite approach. This week, Santorum has only mentioned job creation when asked by a questioner, and his poorly phrased comment about the unemployment rate earlier probably won't encourage him to do too much more talking about the economy. On the trail in Illinois on Sunday, Santorum promised he wasn't there "to give a political speech, I’m here to share with you a little bit about my journey and my life as a Christian." Santorum has also recently declared war against pornography, declaring that the "Obama Department of Justice seems to favor pornographers over children and families."

Recent tensions between the GOP and women have even convinced Ann Romney to lend her lady-voice to the fray. Mrs. Romney said she's "very upset" with Obama's policies, adding: “I love it that women are upset, that women are talking about the economy.” The economy, sure, but not birth control. A recent Fox News poll showed women preferring Obama over Romney by a margin of 49 percent to 37 percent.

The battle over birth control has raked in big money for abortion rights groups recently. EMILY's List, which advocates for the election of Democratic women with pro-abortion-rights agendas, has raised almost twice as much for pro-abortion-rights candidates at this point in the election cycle as it did in the entire 2010 cycle.

Still, maybe Romney's aversion to talking about anything besides the economy is a good thing: A PPP poll released yesterday shows Romney up fifteen points in Illinois, at 45 percent to Santorum's 30 percent.

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images