Rudy Giuliani
Susan Walsh  /  AP
Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani addresses thousands of conservative activists in Washington Friday.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 3/5/2007 8:41:35 AM ET 2007-03-05T13:41:35

As New York’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani supported gay rights, legal abortion, and a lenient approach to illegal immigration.

Yet in the early stages of the 2008 Republican presidential race, some conservatives are adopting Giuliani, because he’s asking for their votes. And because — if you believe current polling data — Giuliani could carry Pennsylvania, New York, and other Northeastern states that no GOP presidential candidate has carried in recent elections.

“No other (Republican) candidate offers the opportunity to carry New York state,” insisted former New York state Conservative Party leader, now a Republican, state Sen. Serphin Maltese, one of Giuliani’s enthusiastic backers.

As for New York’s next-door neighbor, in the past 60 years no Democratic presidential candidate has lost Pennsylvania and still won the White House. A poll conducted by Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania last week showed Giuliani defeating Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Keystone state, 53 percent to 37 percent, if she were the Democratic nominee.

But Maltese’s old comrade-in-arms, Mike Long, the current chairman of New York state’s Conservative Party, isn’t yet convinced Giuliani is the right man for 2008.

A Democrat in his heart?
Long has known Giuliani for years and knows Giuliani is no conservative. “In his heart, he’s a Democrat,” Long said in 1994 when Giuliani supported Democrat Mario Cuomo in the governor’s race. The Conservative Party provided the margin of victory for Republican George Pataki that year in his upset victory over Cuomo.

Giuliani ran three times for mayor of New York City; not once did he run on the conservative party line; in fact he ran on the liberal party line.

At this past weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington sponsored by the American Conservative Union (ACU), Long said, “There’s a clear separation (between conservatives and Giuliani) on important issues that a president has to embrace to win conservative minds and hearts.”

He added, “In all fairness to the mayor, he’s starting to go through an evolution, so we have a long way to go. We haven’t talked to him about anything yet at this stage of the game; we have not had a sit-down on issues.”

In his speech to CPAC Friday, Giuliani’s avoided any discussion of differences with deep-dyed conservatives. He told the crowd that “one of my heroes” was Ronald Reagan and reminded them that he’d worked in the Reagan administration in the third-ranking position in the Justice Department.

He quoted Reagan, “My 80 percent ally is not my 20 percent enemy. What he meant by that is we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. You and I have a lot of common beliefs that are the same and we have some that are different…. We do believe in many of the same things, I’m sure.”

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Assessing Giuliani’s speech, Long said “He didn’t really get into heavy issues. He gave an acceptable speech, but he certainly didn’t touch on a lot of issues nor did he lift the crowd…. The audience was looking for an indication of where he is on a lot of issues.” Long said, “If Rudy wants conservative support across the country he has to move on a lot of issues.”

Strong showing in straw poll
And yet despite Long’s misgivings and despite what most attendees thought was lackluster speech by the former mayor, in the straw poll of 1,705 attendees at the CPAC event, he finished a respectable second to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Giuliani got 17 percent, four points behind Romney.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who unlike Romney and Giuliani, didn’t address the CPAC gathering, garnered 12 percent. Booing broke out throughout the ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel when McCain’s name was mentioned as the straw poll results were announced Saturday.

Speaking before the poll outcome was revealed, Long said conservatives “perceive Giuliani as being quite liberal on a lot of issues and they’re not comfortable. But, look, two things are happening here: one, there are people looking for someone to beat Hillary, so Hillary gives Rudy a lot of cover. And, two, Rudy to his benefit does give an optimistic vision. Whether that’s enough to carry him through this race, I’m not convinced.”

But Maltese is convinced.

“You saw the enthusiasm,” he said as he left the hall after Giuliani’s speech. “A lot of social conservatives are in this room. I’ve been an ACU (American Conservative Union) board member for 20 years. I’m very strong on the social issues and yet I feel the overwhelming concern for all of us and our constituents is the war against terror and protecting our country from the Islamic fascists.”

He added, “I am one of the strongest pro-life advocates in New York state. My bills have opposed same-sex marriage. But Rudy Giuliani is now not running for mayor — he’s running for president of the United States to protect our country under attack. And I have to put some of those (social conservative) considerations aside. I have to hope he will listen to our concerns, because he’s indicated he will.”

Polls and straw polls are interesting, but Giuliani will face his first real-world test in Iowa’s caucuses next January.

How will Rudy play in Iowa?
A leading Iowa conservative, Republican Rep. Steve King, who addressed CPAC Saturday on the need to stop illegal immigration, hasn't yet endorsed any contender but said Romney is moving closest to his views on immigration and also happens to be the best organized right now in Iowa.

As mayor, Giuliani enforced a policy which ordered municipal agencies to not report illegal immigrants to federal authorities for deportation.

King is at war with him on that: “I’m all for compassion, but he is at same time saying they should go without deportation. If you’re not willing to send people back to their home country who are here illegally, you can’t enforce any kind of immigration law whatsoever.”

King also said that Giuliani signed an executive order that continued the sanctuary policy of the city of New York. “That means New York has become a sanctuary city, a magnet city for illegals. We don’t need to become any more of a magnet country for illegals that we are today. Hopefully Giuliani will be able to go back and revisit that position.”

Visit Iowa, “revisit” past positions — that’ll be Giuliani’s routine from now until January.

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