Rudy to Face Tough Crowd at Religious Conference

I’m headed down to Washington tomorrow to watch Rudy Giuliani address conservative values voters at the Family Research Council conference. In the meantime, contributor Rebecca Sinderbrand sends the following dispatch, in which she finds some strong opposition to the idea of Giuliani as the Republican nominee.

 

As many evangelical leaders threaten to abandon the Republican Party in the event of Rudy Giuliani capturing the nomination, the former mayor will come here to the FRC conference tomorrow to try and persuade, or at least assuage, concerned Christian conservatives with one of the most important speeches of his candidacy.

But for many of the conservative activists assembled here in Washington, it’s already too late.

"I’ve run into many of my fellow conservatives here [at the conference] supporting Fred Thompson. I’ve run into many of my fellow conservatives here supporting Mitt Romney. I’ve run into some supporting John McCain," says Richard Land of the Southern Baptist convention. "I have yet to run into a single one who supports Rudy Giuliani — at least, no one who will admit it publicly. If Giuliani gets the nomination, he’s in deep trouble."

Land estimated that between a quarter and one-third of religious conservatives wouldn’t bother to show up in a general election. The best Giuliani can hope for, he said, would be to lose just 15-20 percent of that vote — around six million to eight million voters, by most estimates, and enough to cost him the race.

Of course, none of Giuliani’s main rivals for the Republican nomination have been embraced by the crowd here. There is still deep distrust in Romney, whose stance on abortion and failure to prevent the gay marriage in Massachusetts has garnered much suspicion here. (They also question his support outside of Iowa.) McCain is no longer considered viable. And, as seems to be the developing pattern, Fred Thompson’s speech here failed to wow the crowd.

"He [Thompson] really needs to sharpen his delivery. He just seemed very hesitant," said Larry Linenschmidt, of Texas. Conservative Kirby Wilbur was more blunt. "I say this as someone who writes checks, supports him, likes him — at this point, he’s got to hit a home run every time. You can’t have a bad day. And he just keeps going from home run to foul ball. He’s still very, very uneven. He’s got to do better."

Most of the activists here dismissed the idea of a third party protest candidate gaining widespread support from Christian conservatives. ("That’s total suicide, and everyone knows it," said one.) To underline what many conservatives here called the mathematical impossibility of a Giuliani victory next November, Land pointed to a recent FOX poll that showed Clinton and Giuliani virtually tied in a head to head race, but with Clinton winning convincing in a three candidate race.

"Among the grassroots, there’s a feeling… some of them may hold their nose and vote for Giuliani… but many of them, a huge percentage, just won’t under any circumstances," said Wilbur. "Even among those who do — I can give you my vote, or I can stuff envelopes, I can open my wallet, I can come out and volunteer. My sense is that the people here might vote for Giuliani, but they won’t be the loyal foot soldiers they’ve been up until now."

"I don’t think anyone will emerge as a clear winner tomorrow," said Land. "But whoever wins can count on some support from the base. Unless it’s Giuliani. If it’s Giuliani, all bets are off."