Yesterday, President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room to comment on the remarks made by Missouri Rep. Todd Akin:

“Rape is rape,” Obama said. “The idea that we should be parsing, qualifying, slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people.”

Obama added that the comments underscore “why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, the majority of which are men, making decisions that affect the health of women.”

With its relentless focus on Bain Capital, Paul Ryan, and Romney’s tax returns, the Obama campaign has sounded like a one note operation. But in an unexpected twist, in addition to making an economic case for his policies and presenting a vision of “shared responsibility,” Obama has also emerged as the most vocal culture warrior of the election. He has endorsed same-sex marriage, pledged to protect Planned Parenthood, and saturated the airwaves with ads meant to highlight the Romney/Ryan stance on abortion and contraception.

The latest spot, released yesterday, hits Romney and Ryan for everything from abortion — both support state-based “personhood” amendments — to contraception. Romney supports the Blunt-Rubio amendment, which would allow employers to deny coverage for any condition to which they have a religious objection.

This is a key part of the Obama campaign’s strategy, and it’s not hard to see why. Women have always been an important part of the Democratic coalition, but in this election, they’re crucial — women comprise 60 percent of swing voters, and make up a large share of the electorate in states like Virginia, Colorado and Florida. Already, Obama holds a double-digit lead over Romney among women; for the last month, it hovered between 10 and 15 points. If he can expand that lead, and make gains among white women, he can maintain his small — but solid — lead over the former Massachusetts governor.

This strategy is similar to the one Michael Bennet used in his 2010 Colorado Senate race against Tea Party candidate Ken Buck. Bennet ran numerous ads attacking Buck for his uncompromising stance against abortion, while also rallying Latinos against Buck’s harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric. The result was a small win over Buck, after trailing behind the conservative Republican for most of the fall.

Obama is helped by the Republican Party’s intransigence on social issues. CNN revealed today that the GOP would include support for a “human life amendment” in its platform, which would outlaw abortion in all instances, with no exceptions for rape, incest or medical emergency. What’s more, the Republican platform will continue to call for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and will reject support for civil unions.

A little moderation would help the GOP take social issues off of the table and make this an election about the economy. But barring that moderation, Obama has the opportunity to make this a culture war election, too: do you want to turn the clock back on women and LGBT rights, or do you want to go forward?

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect. You can find his blog here.