Republican presidential candidates, all flawed in the eyes
of influential social conservatives, sought Friday to
convince the restive group they will carry the torch
for the right flank -- and Rudy Giuliani won't.
''This is not the
time to turn our back on the progress we've made on the
issues that matter most,'' John McCain, the Arizona senator,
told a gathering of ''values voters.'' Added Mitt
Romney, in prepared remarks: ''We're not going to beat
Hillary Clinton by acting like Hillary Clinton.''
Giuliani, the two challenged the candidacy of the former
New York mayor, their thrice-married GOP rival who leads in
national popularity polls and has sought common ground
with social conservatives despite his support for
abortion rights and gay rights. Giuliani argues that
whether people agree with him or not on the issues, he has
the best chance to beat Clinton, the Democratic
All the major
Republican presidential hopefuls -- and most of the
lesser-knowns -- were speaking to a gathering sponsored by
the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy
group. This segment of the party's base has not
coalesced around a Republican candidate.
Ahead of Fred
Thompson's Friday address, his campaign distributed fliers
trumpeting his anti-abortion rights views and
assailing both Giuliani and Romney. Thompson has drawn
criticism for conflicting statements on abortion in
his Senate races and his lobbying work on behalf of an
abortion rights organization.
On the eve of his
address, Thompson told reporters he had no regrets
about the work he did on behalf of National Family Planning
and Reproductive Health Association. ''That was
private life,'' Thompson said, adding that while in
the Senate he opposed abortion rights.
Brownback of Kansas, a favorite of the religious right,
received an enthusiastic response from the couple of
thousand conference attendees. He made no mention of
his plans to drop out of the race later Friday.
McCain, who got a
polite reception and a standing ovation, indirectly
slapped at Giuliani, Romney, and Thompson.
''I'll match my
record of defending conservative principles against any
other candidate in this race,'' McCain said, adding that
while voters may not always agree with him, ''I hope
you know I'm not going to con you.''
conservatives, McCain said, should pick a candidate who has
demonstrated a consistent commitment to their values. ''I
have a record that can be trusted,'' he said.
That pitch gets
to the heart of McCain's woes with this group: It doesn't
trust the man who in 2000 called its leaders ''agents of
intolerance.'' He also hasn't been a vocal champion of
its core issues -- even though his voting record on
topics like abortion is solidly conservative.
''I have been
pro-life my entire public career,'' McCain said. ''I won't
ever change my position to fit the politics of the day.''
In his own
prepared remarks, Romney, whose Mormon faith has made some
evangelical Christians wary, implicitly tried to dismiss the
notion that his religion is repelling Christian
conservatives. He said, ''I'm pleased that so many
people of many faiths have come to endorse my candidacy and
He also poked at
Giuliani repeatedly. Romney, who ran for governor as a
moderate in 2002 but who has shifted to the right as he
seeks the presidency, is hoping to emerge as the main
alternative to Giuliani.
Setting up a
contrast with Giuliani's multiple marriages, Romney said,
''I am pro-family on every level, from personal to
political.'' He emphasized his three-decade-long
marriage to one woman, Ann, and talks about their five
sons, his daughters-in-law, and 10 grandchildren.
As he does often,
he talked of ''three legs of the Republican stool'' --
a stronger military, a stronger economy, and stronger
families -- that unite the three types of
conservatives in the party: defense, economic, and
''We won't win the White House with only two out of three
or one out of three'' -- a clear reference to Giuliani's
moderate-to-liberal views on social issues. (Liz Sidoti, AP)