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updated 3/13/2007 7:44:36 AM ET 2007-03-13T11:44:36

Presidential contender Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of ultraliberal New York City, supports a woman's right to choose an abortion, domestic partnership benefits for gay couples and gun-control measures — and he's a Republican.

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Strikingly, such moderate positions haven't thus far impeded his efforts to win the GOP nomination.

But his rivals still have hope they will.

"We don't all agree on everything. I don't agree with myself on everything," Giuliani says at nearly every campaign appearance, a stump-speech line that allows him to allude to — and then dismiss — his differences with cultural and religious conservatives on social issues.

"We do believe in many of the same things," he assures his audiences.

Giuliani then emphasizes his mayoral successes in reforming welfare, reducing spending, cutting taxes and curbing crime. He talks of challenges facing the United States — fighting terrorism and improving education. And, he usually only mentions hot-button social issues directly when asked about them.

His strategy is to convince Republican primary voters that they agree on most other conservative principles and that his proven leadership ability supersedes his left-leaning views on abortion, gays and guns.

So far, it appears to be working.

Leading the polls
Giuliani's lead in national popularity polls has widened considerably over his chief GOP rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, in recent weeks as the ex-mayor started campaigning in earnest. Early polling typically reflects name recognition, and Giuliani became a celebrity in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The question is whether Giuliani can maintain his support in spite of his pro-choice, pro-gay rights and pro-gun control positions when he faces a Republican primary electorate heavily made up of conservatives who oppose such views.

"He's not going to collapse because some Republicans don't agree with him on social issues," said Frank Luntz, a Republican who is unaligned in this race but was Giuliani's pollster years ago. "What he represents trumps those issues."

Not so, say some conservatives.

"A Republican Party led by Rudy Giuliani would be a party of contempt for the pro-life position," the editors of the National Catholic Register said recently about the Roman Catholic candidate. "The bottom line: Republicans have made inroads into the Catholic vote for years because of the pro-life issue. If they put a pro-abortion politician up for president, the gains they've built for decades will vanish overnight."

In any other presidential election year, a socially moderate Republican winning the party's nomination would have been unthinkable to many GOP strategists. But, they say, 2008 is different. Not only is there no heir apparent to President Bush, it's also the first contested Republican primary since the terrorist attacks — and national security is the dominant issue.

Conservatives who have aligned themselves with Giuliani say that's a primary reason they're comfortable backing him.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., endorsed Giuliani on Monday, praising his "strong unwavering leadership and sound judgment that we so clearly need in this time of war and terrorist threats."

"Obviously, I disagree with Rudy on some significant social issues," Vitter added. However, he said: "It's very clear to me that he's not running for president to advance any liberal social agenda."

Operatives for McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney believe most Republican primary voters don't know Giuliani's positions on social issues and will look elsewhere once they are aware. Thus, both campaigns have been scouring his long record to help clue in such voters — either publicly or behind the scenes.

Backing for abortion rights
"There's a lot of things that he's either said or done that will have to become things that he'll either have to defend or deflect," said Steven Lombardo, a Republican strategist unaffiliated with the campaigns.

  • On abortion, Giuliani supports abortion rights. In 1989, he declared: "There must be public funding for abortion for poor women." Last month, he said: "I believe in a woman's right to choose."

Despite such pronouncements, Giuliani has been courting the right and signaling how he would govern on the issue by saying he would name conservative judges to the federal bench who would "strictly interpret" the Constitution in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

He also emphasizes his support for banning what critics call partial-birth abortion as long as it has an exception when the mother's life is at stake, and his backing of parental notification laws as long as there is an exception allowing a minor to petition a judge for permission to get an abortion without telling her parents.

  • On gay rights, Giuliani backs benefits for same-sex couples and says "gays should be protected." In 1997, he signed a bill creating domestic-partnership benefits in New York City. "We should be tolerant, fair, open and we should understand the rights that all people have in our society," he said recently.

While campaigning, Giuliani has been careful to declare his opposition to gay marriage, saying: "Marriage should be between a man and a woman. It should remain that way."

However, he says, at this point, he doesn't see the need for a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage that way, a stance that no doubt irks conservatives pushing for it.

  • On gun control, Giuliani is perhaps best known for suing two dozen major gun manufacturers and distributors in 2000. Three years earlier, Giuliani advocated for a federal law that bans all assault-style weapons and said: "If, in fact, you do need a handgun, you should be subjected to at least the same restrictions — and really stronger ones — that exist for driving an automobile."

"The United States Congress needs to pass uniform licensing for everyone carrying a gun," he said then.

Today, Giuliani tells voters that he used gun-control measures to reduce crime in New York City, but that states should have the right to decide what works best for them. He says "people have the right to bear arms," but he calls for "reasonable and sensible" restrictions.

Given Giuliani's record, Joe Gaylord, a GOP strategist who is close to potential candidate Newt Gingrich, agreed that it's hard to imagine social conservatives backing him. But, referring to Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, he said: "Fear of Hillary might do it."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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