At yesterday’s debate, Mitt Romney and the other candidates went all in on birth control — sorry, “religious liberty” — in blasting President Obama over the contraception controversy. Romney accused Obama of an unprecedented “attack on religious conscience,” on “religious freedom,” and (most amusingly) on “religious tolerance.”

Romney said Obama’s birth control compromise was “inappropriate,” adding that “the Catholic Church” will end up paying for contraception.

But some new polling out this morning from Quinnipiac illustrates the risk Republicans are taking with this latest reprise of the culture wars:

President Obama recently announced an adjustment to the administration’s health-care rule regarding religiously affiliated employers providing birth control coverage to female employees. Women will still be guaranteed coverage for birth control without any out-of-pocket cost, but will have to seek the coverage directly from their insurance companies if their employers object to birth control on religious grounds. Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama’s decision?

Approve: 54

Disapprove: 38

Independents approve 56-36; women 56-34. The question wording isn’t great; it doesn’t tell respondents that government mandates that the insurance companies provide coverage. When sked whether the “federal government should require private employers” to cover contraception, the public is split, 47-48. But that question is misleading: Under Obama’s policy, religious institutions (the employers) are exempt.

When asked whether “health insurance plans should cover birth control as preventive care for women,” a big majority says Yes, 71-24. Independents say Yes, 72-23. Bottom line: There’s broad consensus that women should be able to get birth control coverage as part of their health insurance plans, and see contraception as standard preventive care.

Romney has also vowed to defund Planned Parenthood as President. But the Q-poll finds this is opposed by a big majority, 60-31, including among independents, 61-30.

It’s not surprising, then, that Romney’s standing among women is deteriorating, particularly among the unmarried ones who are key to the Dem coalition. How much all this will impact the general election remains to be seen, of course. But for now, it’s clear that the GOP primary is forcing Romney — who’s under presure to connect with religious and social conservatives — to take positions that could alienate key swing consistuencies.

* Romney won the debate, but at what cost? Ron Brownstein gets to the heart of it: Even if Romney turned in a must-win against Rick Santorum yesterday, he tightly embraced positions on immigration and Obama’s wildly successful auto rescue that will haunt him in a general election.

* Social issues driving the Senate races: It isn’t just the presidential race. Dem candidates across the country are increasingly hammering GOP opponents over birth control, Planned Parenthood and “personhood” amendments. The surprising resurgence of this social issue is particularly interesting given that the Senate races are fielding an unprecedented number of Dem Senate female hopefuls.

* More booing at GOP debate: The GOP debate audience booed when the candidates were asked a simple question — do they believe in birth control? — and today will be consumed with an inquiry into why exactly this question was seen as so objectionable.

* Economic confidence rising? One key to an incumbent’s chances is the direction people think the economy is moving in, and the Quinnipiac poll finds that a majority believe the economy is beginning to recover, 54-43. Caveats: Obama’s approval is still upside down at 45-49 and the health reform and right-track-wrong-track numbers are abysmal.

Key footnote: Americans still blame Bush far more than Obama for the current economy, 51-35, an enduring finding that right-wingers alternately try to furiously debunk or dismiss as irrelevant, depending on the moment.

Relatedly: Jobless claims remain at a four year low, and Steve Benen has it in chart form.

* The GOP presidential candidates are not fiscally conservative: A new report to be released today finds that the national debt would soar under the tax plans proposed by the GOP presidential candidates, with Romney’s adding $2.6 trillion to the debt by 2021.

The phrase “fiscally conservative” is now completely unmoored from concerns about the debt, and now only means something approximating “in favor of tax cuts for the rich and theoretical cuts to government that will create the illusion that we want to pay for them.”

* Low enthusiasm for Romney among Republicans? T.W. Farnam finds another metric: “Paul, Gingrich and Santorum all have raised more than half of their money from small donors. Romney’s campaign, by contrast, has brought in just 12 percent of its total from contributors giving less than $200 at a time.” The question is whether this signals a likely enthusiasm gap favoring Dems next fall.

* Buffett Rule inches forward in Congress: Warren Buffett has now endorsed Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s proposal to implement the Buffett rule. One way or another, Congress will vote on the principle that millionaires should not pay lower tax rates than middle class taxpayers do, even as Republicans are set to nominate a multimillionaire who personally benefits to an untold degree from the tax provision the Buffett Rule would undo.

* Consumer protection bureau is up and running: Remember when Republicans protested Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? As David Dayen notes, the bureau is now up and running and doing good work on behalf of consumers.

* The Obama of the paranoid right wing imagination: Like E.J. Dionne, I find it amazing that “respectable” Republicans traffic so heavily in Obama-as-other rhetoric (Kenyan, Muslim, secular, etc.) given how detatched it is from actual mainstream voter perceptions of the man.

* And Mitt Romney’s “one percent” rhetoric angers right: Your Thursday comic relief: Rush Limbaugh rips into Romney for daring to use the very phase “one percent” when he unveiled his tax plan yesterday. Rush, Rush, Rush. Don’t panic. The vow to make sure the one percent continues paying the same “share” or more was utterly meaningless. His plan sharply reduces the amount the wealthy will pay, which is different from the share of the tax burden.

Let’s add Rush to the “just shut up” club.

What else?