WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. lawmakers who oppose abortion insisted Wednesday that Republican contenders keep an intense focus on social issues in the upcoming midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.

Like many abortion opponents, the Susan B. Anthony List political action group is in search of a White House contender who won't shy from such issues after presidential nominees in 2008 and 2012 focused their campaigns on the economy and lost.

Several potential 2016 candidates spoke Wednesday in blunt terms.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who is a favorite of the conservative tea party, said supporters of abortion rights chant "Hail, Satan" to silence their enemies.

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said those who support abortion rights favor a "culture of death" and engage in "savagery."

And Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska told the activists: "Abortion is not a women's issue. It is not a men's issue. It is not a health care issue. It is a violence issue."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, said he wants Republicans to win, but not if that means compromising their values.

"Whether it's politically expedient or not is of no consequence to me," Huckabee said. "If we get this issue wrong, we will get all the other issues wrong."

The potential 2016 presidential contenders are trying to find support with the Republican Party's socially conservative wing. That bloc — which enjoys outsized influence in deciding the nominee — is open to many of the potential White House candidates but has yet to rally behind one of them.

The political debate over abortion shows no signs of being resolved, more than 40 years after the Supreme Court legalized the procedure in the case of Roe vs. Wade. Young people today are somewhat more conservative on the issue than middle-aged Americans, but the nation is split on the deeply personal issue.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll published this month, 50 percent of conservative Republicans and 46 percent of white evangelical Protestants said they would consider voting for Cruz. Huckabee drew potential support among 50 percent of conservatives and 44 percent of evangelicals.

Other candidates who did not speak to the abortion summit fared about as well. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie drew potential consideration of 45 percent of conservative Republicans and 40 percent of evangelicals. And Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida would be considered by 52 percent of conservative Republicans and 43 percent of evangelicals.

The key for these voters is backing a 2016 candidate who opposes abortion.

To help candidates who oppose abortion, Susan B. Anthony List's plans to spend around $10 million on the November election, when many seats in Congress are decided.

Cruz argued that abortion rights supporters are ruthless and won't be easy to sway.

"Arm-in-arm, chanting 'Hail, Satan,' embracing the right to take the life of a late-term child," Cruz said, referencing protests in Austin, Texas, last year over an abortion bill. While anti-abortion activists were giving speeches and singing "Amazing Grace," others tried to drown them out with chants.

Such divisiveness over social issues has at times cost Republicans in elections.

In 2012's Senate race in Missouri, Republican candidate Todd Akin was asked about access to abortion in the case of rape. He said such pregnancies are "really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

In Indiana, Republican candidate Richard Mourdock said "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

Those comments crippled their campaigns. Both lost.


Associated Press writer Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.