GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney is reaching out to social conservatives in a new way. At a rally in the gym at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., Monday night, Romney rolled out some new material: the rights given to people by God.
"I am just distressed as I watch, as I watch our president try and infringe upon those rights," Romney said to the capacity crowd. "The first amendment of the Constitution provides the right to worship in the way of our own choice."
Romney cited a Supreme Court case related to the firing of a teacher at a religious school, and a recent decision by the department of Health and Human Services to require religious institutions like schools and hospitals to cover birth control pills as part of the insurance provided to employees.
That includes "contraceptives, morning-after pills — in other words, abortive pills," Romney said, venturing into territory he typically doesn't address on the campaign trail.
"Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience. We must have a president who is willing to protect America's first right — a right to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience," Romney said.
The crowd cheered wildly, one of several times over the course of what was otherwise a variation on his standard stump speech.
The new language seemed targeted directly at social conservatives — voters who have tended to favor Rick Santorum and at times Newt Gingrich. On the same day, the Romney campaign went after Santorum in a conference call, questioning his conservative credentials.
In that call, Romney surrogate and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty admitted that the campaign considers Santorum a threat.
"He's a credible candidate and deserves to be, you know, right in the middle of the back-and-forth between campaigns, and I think that's what you see happen," Pawlenty said.
Recent polling shows Santorum in the lead in the nonbinding Minnesota caucuses, with Romney still a favorite in Colorado's caucuses.
When asked whether Romney's socially conservative turn had anything to do with his opponents, advisers insisted these are just issues of the day.