"I would suggest that really, the discussion got started a month ago, when President Obama announced he was making the decision to violate the religious freedoms of religious, faith-based institutions," said Republican Governors Association Chairman Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia.
Republicans seized on the issue as an opportunity to blast Democrats for overreaching. Opponents of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., ran advertisements blasting her for supporting the administration. In Massachusetts, Republican Sen. Scott Brown also hit Democrats, including in an op-ed in the Boston Globe.
In McDonnell's home state of Virginia, social issues drove headlines last week, when the governor amended his stance on a controversial measure ithat would require women to get an ultrasound before getting an abortion. The measure sparked impassioned protests from women's groups, prompting McDonnell to do an about-face, proposing an amended version of the bill he initially said he'd support.
"They've addressed the problem ... and we will probably sign it in its current form," McDonnell said in an interview.
Still, even as social issues have dominated headlines in the commonwealth during the past week, McDonnell sought to underscore that economic and not social issues are not the focus of his agenda.
"That's not what we're doing," said McDonnell. "We're talking about jobs, economic development, veterans, transportation, higher education reform," he said.
Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, the likely Democratic Senate nominee in the state, has used social issues to his advantage, pointing to the legislation and former Sen. George Allen's past positions on social issues. Through his campaign, Allen steered clear last week of weighing in the ultrasound measure, a clear illustration of how politically problematic it is for Republicans running statewide in Virginia.
Also in Virginia, a so-called anti-abortion "personhood" measure that would define life as beginning at conception was tabled for the year, marking yet another setback for conservatives. A similar measure failed last year in Mississippi, and it's failed twice in Colorado. The next major battleground is Oklahoma, where a "personhood" measure has already passed one chamber of the state legislature.
But even in the deeply red Sooner State, the Republican governor isn't committing to signing any legislation just yet.
"It's early in the legislative session," said Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin on Saturday. "There are several bills that deal with when does the start of life begin, and we'll debate those issues in the legislative session. It's still too early for me to make a judgment call on whether I'll sign it because it, because it will change between now and the end of session, but in general, I am a pro-life governor."
Republicans acknowledge that it is important for leaders in their party to be principled when it comes to social issues.
"I respectfully would say that these issues of life, family and marriage and religious freedom and what you believe about traditional values -- these are always important and these issues are going to come up in a general election," said McDonnell.
But the preference is still a focus on the economy, something that's been complicated by the events of the last month.
"I don't think its a one size fits all approach to what are the important issues of the day. That being said, I think on a national basis for the Republican Party, the issues of the day probably focus around the control of spending in Washington" and growing the economy, said Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.