Culture War Update: Obama Joins the Fray Sparked by Rush Limbaugh

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The furor was undoubtedly a pleasant event for Obama, who, even after drawing criticism last month for a rule that required religious groups to cover contraceptive services, has avoided the spotlight as the GOP and prominent conservative voices like Limbaugh focused on cultural matters rather than highlighting many Americans' dissatisfaction about the state of the economy.

The willingness to move away from the economy conversation likely reflects the importance of key Southern states that will vote in the Republican primaries on "Super Tuesday" next week, where social issues remain important to conservative and religious voters.

The focus on divisive cultural issues is reminiscent of the political sparring over gay marriage during the 2004 presidential race that drove Republicans to the polls in many Southern states to oppose efforts to make it legal.

President Bush's 2004 campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, who announced in 2010 that he is gay, said in an interview with Salon published today that he wished he "had spoken out against the effort" to enact an amendment banning gay marriage.

"As I've been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of the things I've learned is how many people were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved," he said. "I apologize to them and tell them I am sorry. While there have been recent victories, this could still be a long struggle in which there will be setbacks, and I'll do my part to be helpful."

ABC News's John Parkinson and Matthew Larotonda contributed reporting to this story.

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