Rudolph in the Lions’ Den

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.

Rudolph in the Lions’ Den