Just after 8:30 on the morning of Oct 20 in Washington D.C., Ed Goeas, a pollster for Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign, walked into the press room of the Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit in need of credentials.
His candidate was about to deliver one of the most delicate and critical speeches of the race so far, in which he would try to convince conservative Christian voters not to sabotage his nomination. The campaign wanted Mr. Goeas to have unfettered access to reporters in case they required reminding that Mr. Giuliani was indeed the race’s frontrunner.
Given the surroundings, it would have been easy to forget.
The largely evangelical crowd had spent the entire prior day listening to John McCain, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney champion their opposition to abortion. Mr. Romney, a relative latecomer to that position, had made an especially aggressive push in recent months to court the religious right, a key constituency of the Republican base that is yet to rally around any single candidate.
Making things even tougher for Mr. Giuliani on Saturday morning was his improbable status as the warm-up act for Mike Huckabee, a former preacher and Arkansas governor who was widely considered the favorite to win the summit’s straw poll.
The audience of roughly 2,000 people, clad in khakis, suits and high-collared dresses, welcomed Mr. Giuliani with a respectful standing ovation. (The prior speaker, conservative radio host Bill Bennett had urged the crowd to "find the man" who will "be on offense, not defense" against terrorists.)
Now, Mr. Offence himself was walking to the podium on a stage decorated in red white and blue. Dressed in a white shirt, dotted blue tie, pin-striped suit, the former mayor wasted no time in addressing the question at hand.
“Christians and Christianity is all about inclusiveness,” said Mr. Giuliani. “This is a religion of inclusion." Christians, he said, were “always looking for people to bring into the fold. They were truly defined by what they were for, not what they were against.”
Mr. Giuliani was, in essence, arguing that he shared much with his skeptical audience, with which his record on abortion, gay rights and gun control have at certain times been diametrically opposed. But in acknowledging his past and present differences, Mr. Giuliani suggested, he was at least someone the group could trust.
“Isn’t it better that I tell you what I really believe, instead of pretending to change all of my positions to fit the prevailing winds?” he said, in an apparent attack at Mr. Romney, who has emerged as his most serious rival. He added, “You have absolutely nothing to fear from me. I find it difficult understanding those who try to make me out as an activist for liberal causes. “
Speaking in his halting style, raising his eyebrows and leaving his mouth agape for emphasis, Mr. Giuliani also sought to convince the crowd that he was just as much a man of God as the candidates who speak in religiously infused language.
“I studied religion and theology for 16 years, and several times almost entered the seminary. I know that’s hard to believe,” Mr. Giuliani said to laughter. “I’m the product of parochial schools: St. Francis of Assisi Grammar School, St. Anne’s Grammar School, Bishop Loughlin High School, and Manhattan College. The first time I attended a class in which a prayer wasn’t said at the beginning of class was my first day at NYU Law School. I was so confused, I began by making the sign of the cross, and then I looked around and realized people were staring at me. It helped my development a lot, in many, many ways that I don’t have time to describe.”
In his remarks, Mr. Giuliani continued to take gradual steps towards a more pro-life position, saying he would veto any legislation that weakens the Hyde Amendment, which bans using taxpayer money for abortions. He also declared himself open to any “reasonable suggestion” to reduce abortions.
As he spoke, most people in the crowd listened intently and, mostly, silently. Some nodded their heads, others rolled their eyes and a few hooted with approval when he talked about his success as mayor removing pornography from Times Square.
When Mr. Giuliani walked off the stage, after going 20 minutes over the allotted 20-minute time limit, he seemed to have assuaged some of the concerns in the crowd.
“He made it tolerable for the audience,” David Coester, a 36-year-old industrial manager from Tennessee, said in the Hilton’s basement lobby. “It made it realistic to believe that he would be our leader. If I wasn’t a bible-belt Christian guy I’d be voting for him. Sometimes in the real world God surprises you. He takes the ugly dude with the third wife and he says, ‘Consider him.’”
But while Mr. Giuliani’s decision to address a group he has virtually no chance of winning ingratiated him to many of the people in attendance, some conservative Christian leaders nevertheless remained staunch in their opposition.
“It was incredibly noticeable to this audience that he barely mentioned the marriage issues," said Gary Bauer, a conservative leader and former presidential candidate, who stood in the lobby amidst swarming reporters. “He is a pro-choice candidate who may be nominated by a pro-life party and that is so fundamental. I think he is going to have to address that in a very direct way.”
Mr. Bauer told the Observer he was also unimpressed with Mr. Giuliani reminding the crowd about the Christian tradition of inclusion.
“The word ‘inclusive’ these days have been used these days as a battering ram by the cultural left,” said Mr. Bauer. “I think he might have inadvertently hit a raw nerve a couple of times by hitting that phrase. I know just around me a bunch of people kind of groaned when he said inclusive. We welcome people into a church, but we welcome them in as they begin to change their lives. He will probably have to work a lot more on this conversation with us and how he can assure us rather than just citing inclusiveness to us as something that should close to deal.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Bauer said that if, against all his efforts, Mr. Giuliani were to win the primary, he would not break from the Republican Party to support a third party candidate, as other Christian conservative leaders have proposed.
“Evangelicals are against suicide and I think they will add political suicide to the things we reject,” he said.
That is just what Mr. Giuliani’s campaign wanted to hear.
The freshly credentialed Giuliani campaign pollster, Mr. Goeas, told the Observer that the audience had given Mr. Giuliani a “respectful and thankful” reception for addressing them with a straightforward talk about his own values. He said that polls showed Mr. Giuliani leading his rivals not only among moderate Republicans but also amongst self-described conservatives and social conservatives. The reason, Mr. Goeas said, was partly due to suspicion about Mr. Romney, whose speech the night before he described as “throwing spaghetti against the wall.” Plus, he said, Romney “had to address the Mormon issue, and it is still there.”
Mr. Goeas said that roughly ten percent of Mr. Giuliani’s support came from single-issue values voters, the very people who were supposed to revile him. And on the issue of abortion, Mr. Goeas expressed confidence that the pro-choice former mayor had sufficiently communicated his commitment to lowering the number of abortions, and that any talk about rallying Christian leaders around a third party challenger had been quelled.
In the end, he said, Mr. Giuliani had a secret weapon to get people to come out and vote for him. “In the general election we have found that you only need to say one word: Hillary.”
The idea for the conservative opposition then was to find a consensus candidate who they could rally around to stop Mr. Giuliani before the general election. The clear favorite of the attendees was Mr. Huckabee, who repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet during his speech by telling the audience basically everything they wanted to hear.
After he had finished talking, the members lined up in large room carpeted in swimming pool blue to cast their votes in the Council’s straw poll. A quick glance at the maze of booths set up around them revealed why Mr. Giuliani, so beloved by Republicans for his tough talk on terrorism, had basically no chance in such a poll.
The Family Research Council booth displayed books like “The Bible, the Church and Homosexuality” and “Birth Mother, Good Mother.” The Alliance Defense Fund booth offered a free map of “Major Legal Battles for the Defense of Marriage in America.” A group called the “Watchmen on the Wall” were actually selling their booth, fully loaded with conservative literature about abortion and the sanctity of marriage, as a preacher’s tool for $499.
A woman in a bright green shirt that said “Adult Stem Cell Transplant Survivor” walked by booths called “The Coming Kingdom Foundation,” “Black, Poor and Conservative,” and “Freedom of a World Impacted by Homosexuality.” There was also booth called “Does Your Health Insurance Support the Darkness?”
Dale O’Leary, an amicable Catholic woman who sat behind the booth of a support group called “PFOX: Parents and Friends of ExGays and Gays,” said the only way Mr. Giuliani could win her support was to “convert.”
“I almost cried when I heard he went to Catholic school for 16 years,” she said, referring to a passage in Mr. Giuliani’s speech in which he described his parochial school education. “Sixteen years of a Catholic education and he didn’t get it. If he is being honest up there, he’s ignorant of the truth. He says he’s personally opposed to abortion but is not going to fight it. That means there is something seriously wrong with his moral compass.”
Next to her was a booth selling an informational book about Mormonism. The man working it said that many of the summit’s participants had regarded him suspiciously.
But outside in the lobby, men with suit lapels adorned with “Evangelicals for Mitt” stickers made their candidates’ case to passersby. A war veteran sold political buttons to a young girl, who sifted through anti-Clinton ones reading “No 3rd term in 2008” and “No co-presidents in 2008” before opting for “ABC. Anybody But Clinton.”
After a talk by conservative radio host Laura Ingraham and a panel on Christian filmmakers (“Hollywood doesn’t belong to the studios, Hollywood belongs to God!”) the Council’s voters gathered in the theater to hear the results of the straw poll, announced by the group’s handsome leader, Tony Perkins.
Before he could get the winner’s name out of his mouth, the results were flashed on two jumbo screens flanking the stage. Gasping and grumbling filled the room.
Mr. Romney has somehow edged out Mr. Huckabee, 1,595 votes to 1,565 votes. Mr. Giuliani finished with 107 votes, 26 more than the last-place finisher, John McCain.
Later, Mr. Perkins suggested that online voting, which began in August, probably accounted for the poor showing, and that despite his low total, “Mayor Giuliani was a winner. He showed that he was willing to stand up and talk."