ATLANTA, Ga. – Mitt Romney took the fight to Newt Gingrich’s home turf Wednesday afternoon.

One day after he suffered a surprising defeat in a trio of states, the former Massachusetts governor and GOP front-runner split his campaign-trail attacks evenly between Gingrich and Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who won Tuesday’s contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.

Speaking to a crowd of about 400 supporters at Bottega Stone, a granite and marble importer in north Atlanta, Romney prefaced his criticism of his two rivals with praise for a third White House GOP hopeful, Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman who trails in the delegate race.

“Among my opponents, well, actually, I tip my hat to Ron Paul – he’s one of those that says, ‘Don’t keep on spending too much,’ and he’s willing to cut spending,” Romney said.

“But the other two guys, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum” – here Romney was interrupted by a few boos from the crowd – “they’ve spent a lot of time in Washington. And during their years, we spent more money than we were taking in.”

During Santorum’s years in Washington, Romney continued, “the government grew by 80 percent, and he voted to raise the debt ceiling five times.”

The brief mention of Gingrich and Santorum lasted only a moment, and then Romney went on to devote the rest of his 15-minute remarks to sharply criticizing President Obama’s leadership during his three years in the White House.

That Romney did not spend more time taking on his two rivals – particularly Santorum, whose campaign Tuesday was given new life by his trio of victories – suggests that the GOP front-runner is not planning on launching a new offense in light of the shifting primary dynamics.

In fact, if Romney has changed course after his Tuesday losses, it’s been in a more subtle effort to compete with Santorum for the support of social conservatives.

Romney did so in two distinct ways Wednesday: He made a rare mention of the role of faith in his own life and he strongly criticized the Obama administration’s recent policy decision requiring institutions to provide contraception to their employees through their health-care plans.

On the former, Romney opened up his address Wednesday by noting his decade serving as a lay leader in the Mormon Church in Boston – although he made no specific mention of his Mormon faith.

“I actually, in my church, we don’t have a professional ministry, and so people are asked to serve as the minister, or the pastor of their congregation from time to time, and I had that privilege for, I think, over 10 years,” Romney said. “And in that capacity, I had the chance to work with people who had lost their jobs, in some cases, or were facing other financial distress, losing their homes. And I found that those circumstances were not just about money or numbers. They were about lives and they were about emotions.”

On the Obama administration’s contraception decision – which was cited by many voters in Wednesday’s crowd as a reason they have become newly energized in their support of a candidate they believe has the best chance of taking on Obama – Romney stepped up some of the criticism he has made in recent days.

“This president is attacking religion and is putting in place a secular agenda that our forefathers would not recognize,” Romney said. “He took a position which I thought was interesting, which was, he said, ‘Look, instead of a church being able to say who their ministers are, the government has to approve who you say their ministers are.’ ”

He continued that under the national health-care law, the White House “has said that Catholic organizations – Catholic schools, Catholic universities, Catholic hospitals – that they have to provide free contraceptives and free morning-after pills to their employees, and this violated the conscience of those good people.”

“This kind of attack on religion and on our first freedom, our right to worship and believe as we choose ... this is wrong,” he added. “This is wrong. If I am president of the United States, I will restore and protect our religious liberty in this great country.”

The issue is indeed one that’s mobilizing voters, as interviews with about a dozen attendees after Wednesday’s event suggested. But whether the move benefits Romney in particular remains to be seen, as it’s a criticism that all of the GOP contenders as well as Republicans on Capitol Hill have voiced in recent days.