Hopeful 2012 GOP candidates court religious right for support

WASHINGTON — A Washington gathering of religious conservatives did something this weekend a South Carolina Republican debate and a well-publicized forum in New Hampshire couldn’t do a few weeks ago.

It drew nearly all the GOP presidential hopefuls to one stage. The Faith and Freedom Coalition’s two-day conference proved that the religious right still plays a major role in the party’s nominating process, even if it’s somewhat less organized than it was in the Christian Coalition’s heyday, and even if economic issues are dominating the run-up to the 2012 elections.

Most of the candidates spent more time on fiscal issues than on spiritual matters on the opening day of the conference Friday. But they generally portrayed the federal debt and health care policies as moral concerns.

And in subtle and unsubtle ways, they paid tribute to religious conservatives who often place abortion, gay marriage and other social issues ahead of questions such as taxes and spending.

— Compiled by Asscociated Press reports