(POLITICO) — MCKINNEY, Texas — After breaking out this week as a surprise conservative standard-bearer in a trio of Republican primaries, Rick Santorum returned Wednesday to the role that helped him build a national reputation in the first place: uncompromising Christian conservative champion.

Rather than following up his Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado wins with a trip to the next set of primary states — Arizona and Michigan — Santorum spoke before a group of Dallas-area pastors, casting himself firmly as the one reliable culture warrior in the 2012 field. He heads to Oklahoma tomorrow.

For a candidate who has spent much of the last year trying to prove that he’s about more than just social issues, Santorum’s Texas trip may look like a strategic detour. While Santorum’s credibility on the Christian right helped him prevail in the Iowa caucuses, his stump speeches have often focused instead on revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, and the candidate has sounded most exercised talking about foreign policy and the threat of a nuclear Iran.

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