Can Rudy Convert The Christian Right?

By CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield.


Maybe it's the right place for a Biblical metaphor: At this weekend's gathering of Christian conservatives, the highlight was something right out of Daniel entering the lion's den, only this Daniel is named Rudy.

Giuliani, who leads all Republicans in the seriously premature presidential polling despite liberal views on abortion and gay rights, came to the Family Research Council's "values voters" summit to argue that he was, if not their natural ally, more friend than foe.

"You have nothing to fear from me," he said.

But the question is, does Giuliani have something to fear from them? Ever since Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, evangelicals - nearly a fourth of the total electorate - have formed a key component of the GOP base, delivering two-thirds of their votes to GOP Presidential candidates, all of whom have embraced the anti-abortion cause. A Republican nominee must have their backing to win the White House.

But what could a pro-choice, pro-gay rights former Mayor of New York possibly say here that would lead these ardent social conservatives to go with him? Maybe it's less what he says that who he is … and isn't?

Yes, he backed the ban on partial-birth abortions, promised to appoint Supreme Court justices like conservative icons Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (both committed to overturning Roe v. Wade), and hit tried-and-tested grace notes for the faithful:

"The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion," was one.

The response suggested Giuliani had made some headway here.

"Yes, I was impressed," one said. "I liked a lot of what he said."

Though the Family Research Council's leader, Tony Perkins, warns that for his constituency, abortion is non negotiable: "This is the key issue. Giuliani did himself some good here but he has a long way to go."

But for some here, it's what Giuliani did on September 11th, and in eight years as mayor, that is at the core of his Presidential hopes. He was, at least symbolically, the American face standing up to the terror attacks, and he paints his years as Mayor of New York as the triumph of conservative ideas in the heartland of liberalism.

But can Giuliani really convert these activists to his side?

Clearly their hearts and souls were elsewhere this weekend. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the gathering's straw poll, his Mormon faith and one-time liberal stands on abortion and gay rights not withstanding. Romney barely edged out former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who bluntly warned Republicans not to embrace pro-choice heresy.

"I don't want ever for us to allow expedience or electability to replace our principles as the new value," Huckabee told the crowd. "I do not spell G-O-D, G-O-P."

But it well may be that next year, there is one political force more powerful than anything Giuliani can say that might persuade reluctant conservatives to embrace his candidacy: the specter of the possible alternative, Hillary Clinton.
  • Jeff Greenfield

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