GOP presidential contenders drift to the right

By CHARLES BABINGTON | May 30, 2011 | 7:29 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the first presidential election since the tea party's emergence, Republican candidates are drifting rightward on a range of issues, even though more centrist stands might play well in the 2012 general election.

On energy, taxes, health care and other topics, the top candidates hold positions that are more conservative than those they espoused a few years ago.

Those shifts reflect the evolving views of conservative voters, who will play a major role in choosing the Republican nominee.

But independent voters appear likely to be decisive players once again. Those independents may be far less enamored of hard-right positions than are the GOP activists who will wield power in nominating contests.