Shelby Township, Michigan (CNN) – Campaigning in advance of the crucial Michigan primary, Mitt Romney attacked President Obama Tuesday for pursuing a "secular agenda" during a wide-ranging town hall meeting that veered into social issues the GOP candidate often skirts.
For many weeks Romney has largely eschewed the town hall format in favor of controlled rallies or business round table meetings - and indeed, the questions he fielded from audience members in Shelby, Michigan were not in Romney's economic wheelhouse but on topics such as abortion, religious freedom and aid for the mentally disabled.
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One woman told Romney she remained undecided after attending "the other fellow's thing last week" - an apparent reference to former Sen. Rick Santorum, a vocal social conservative who leads in state polls and has campaigned aggressively in Michigan - but said Romney could convince her by answering "one last question."
"I just want to hear you say you are 100% pro-life," Feleiteau Epley a retired financial planner, told the candidate.
In a lengthy response that covered his record in Massachusetts, Romney pledged that as president he would cut off funding Planned Parenthood, a women's health care provider that also offers abortion services, and said he would appoint justices who "don't stray from the Constitution."
"I am pro-life," Romney declared. "I am in favor of protecting the sanctity of life."
When he answered about what qualities he would seek in a vice presidential candidate, Romney's first qualification was that his nominee be pro-life.
Another man referred to a controversy over whether the Obama administration would require religious employers to cover contraception for female employees, and asked Romney whether he would "secure our religious freedom" as president.
"You expect the president of the United State to be sensitive to that freedom and protect it," Romney said of Obama. "And unfortunately, perhaps because of the people the president hangs around with and their agenda, their secular agenda, they have fought against religion."
The GOP candidate seemed to make a rare, indirect reference to his Mormon religion as he assured the audience he would protect religious freedoms.
"I can assure you, as someone who has understood very personally the significance of religious tolerance and religious freedom and the right to one's own conscience, I will make sure that we never again attack religious liberty in the United States of America," he said.
Romney played up his Michigan roots to the enthusiastic audience, after being introduced as an underdog in the state where his father served as governor.
"We've got a barn burner of a campaign right now in Michigan and Mitt Romney is fighting like an underdog," said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. "Mitt Romney is the comeback kid."
Some members of that audience voiced their support for Romney by asking friendly questions about his rival Santorum.
"How are you and your campaign going to convince Michiganders in the next week that Rick Santorum is nothing but a Washington insider?" a woman asked. "I don't understand the surge."
Romney offered a lengthy attack on Santorum's career as a Washington senator and derided the former senator's substantial loss in Pennsylvania in 2006.
"I think the tea party would find it very interesting that Rick Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling five times without getting compensating reductions in spending," Romney said, and faulted his rival for defending earmarks he passed in the Senate. "I don't think that is consistent with the principles of conservatism."