Giuliani foes issue third-party threat

Christian conservative coalition objects to his abortion stance

October 01, 2007|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Alarmed at the possibility that the Republican Party might pick Rudolph W. Giuliani as its presidential nominee despite his support for abortion rights, a coalition of influential Christian conservatives is threatening to back a third-party candidate.

The threat emerged from a group that broke away for separate discussions at a meeting Saturday in Salt Lake City of the Council for National Policy, a secretive conservative networking group. Participants said the smaller group included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps its most influential member; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; Richard A. Viguerie, the direct-mail pioneer; and dozens of other politically oriented conservative Christians.

Almost everyone present at the smaller group's meeting expressed support for a written resolution stating that "if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate we will consider running a third-party candidate," participants said.

The participants said that the group chose the qualified term "consider" because it had not yet identified an alternative candidate, but that it was largely united in its plans to bolt the party if Giuliani, the former New York mayor, became the nominee. The participants spoke on condition of anonymity because the Council for National Policy meeting and the smaller meeting were secret, but they said members of the smaller group intended to publicize the resolution.

A revolt of Christian conservative leaders could be a significant setback to the Giuliani campaign because white evangelical Protestants make up a major share of Republican primary voters, including more than a third of voters in Iowa and South Carolina.

But the threat is risky for the leaders of the Christian conservative movement as well. Some of its usual grass-roots supporters might still back a supporter of abortion rights like Giuliani, either because they dislike the Democratic nominee even more or because they are more concerned with other issues, such as the war in Iraq.

In recent polls by the Pew Research Center, Giuliani has received a plurality of support from white evangelical Protestant voters despite a rising chorus of complaints from Christian conservative leaders about his liberal views on social issues.

Some players in the movement not present at the meeting may be open to Giuliani as the lesser of two evils. For example, the Christian Broadcast Network, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, has provided relatively generous coverage to Giuliani and his campaign.

Gary L. Bauer, a Christian conservative political advocate who was a Republican primary candidate eight years ago, said that, speaking by phone to the meeting, he urged the group to proceed with caution. "I can't think of a bigger disaster for social conservatives, defense conservatives and economic conservatives than Hillary Clinton in the White House," Bauer said.

He added, "But I do believe there are certain core issues for the Republican Party - low taxes, strong defense and pro-life - and if we nominate someone who is hostile on one of those three things it will blow up the GOP."

In response to the Christian conservatives, a spokeswoman for the Giuliani campaign provided a statement from Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who supports Giuliani, saying, "Conservatives are rallying around the one candidate with the executive experience and proven leadership our country needs." Calling Giuliani strong on fighting terrorism and "fiscal discipline," Sessions said Republicans want a candidate who "can beat the Democratic nominee."

For months, Christian conservatives have been escalating warnings that nominating Giuliani could splinter the party. Dobson wrote a column declaring that he would waste his vote before casting it for either Giuliani or a Democrat who supports abortion rights, such as Clinton. Some conservatives also noted that Giuliani has been divorced twice and married three times and is estranged from his children.

Participants in the group that endorsed the resolution said they had reached their position after hearing an assessment of the state of the Republican primary from Perkins, who acts as a point man in Washington for the movement. Perkins told them that Giuliani could plausibly win the primary if he carried Florida, which has many conservative Christian voters, and that now was the best chance to stop any momentum behind his campaign.

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