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Social issues including immigration, abortion still fire up conservative GOP despite 2012 loss

BY CHARLES BABINGTON, ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- Republican lawmakers have a message for those who want the party to soften its emphasis on social conservatism in hopes of reaching a wider national audience: Not so fast.

House Republicans flexed their cultural and conservative muscles Tuesday, passing the most restrictive abortion measure in years. They also advanced legislation to crack down on immigrants living illegally in the country, even as senators pursue a plan that would offer those same millions a shot at citizenship.

The actions reflect a roiling debate among Republicans over why they lost two elections to President Barack Obama, and how best to rebuild a winning formula.

Many Republicans in Congress and elsewhere think the party's establishment erred in concluding the GOP must embrace "comprehensive immigration reform" to attract Hispanic voters. And they dismiss the notion that Republicans should soft-pedal their opposition to abortion, a subject on which they say public opinion is moving their way.

"There's been a misleading thought as to what happened after the last election cycle," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.

"Most Americans do not support amnesty, especially without securing the borders," he said, regarding the idea of citizenship for those here illegally. As for abortion, Fleming said, there's growing public concern about second-trimester abortions, "so we're actually gaining ground."

Like Democrats, Republicans often discuss ways to keep their base loyal while attracting independent voters near the political center. The urgency rose last fall, when Mitt Romney became the fifth Republican in six presidential elections to lose the popular vote.

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