BY LAURIE KELLMAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON -- All of a sudden, abortion, contraception and gay marriage are at the center of American political discourse, with the struggling - though improving - economy pushed to the background.
Social issues don't typically dominate the discussion in shaky economies. But they do raise emotions important to factors like voter turnout. And they can be key tools for political candidates clamoring for attention, campaign cash or just a change of subject in an election year.
"The public is reacting to what it's hearing about," said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. In a political season, he said, "when the red meat is thrown out there, the politicians are going to go after it."
The economy still tops the list of voters' concerns and probably will still shape this presidential election. For now, at least, the culture wars of the 1990s are back. It's not clear which party will benefit because the same group of voters that opposes abortion might split over gay marriage or whether cancer research should be immune from politics. And it's not yet known to what extent, if at all, social issues will influence voters on Election Day.