Despite a strong showing of evangelical support for Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani, evangelical leaders predict that the former New York mayor's liberal social views and rocky personal life will cost him a major part of the gop's conservative base.
"I think a lot of evangelicals are just getting to know Rudy," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
"As they get to know himnot as the hero of 9/11 but as a supporter of tax-funded abortionshis support will decline precipitously."
Yet even as Land and other prominent conservativesincluding Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Buchananhave taken aim at the current gop frontrunner, a plurality of evangelicals continue to favor him in polls. In a March survey, 27 percent of self-identified evangelical Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters said they favored Giuliani among the likely and announced gop presidential contenders. Senator John McCain followed in second place with 23 percent in the polling, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and analyzed by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Republican candidates can scarcely afford to alienate evangelicals. According to Pew, white evangelical conservatives compose 31 percent of Republican voters in Iowa, an early caucus state. They compose 39 percent of Republicans in South Carolina, which also votes early, but only 10 percent in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary.
John Green, the Pew Forum's senior fellow in religion and American politics, said he believes issues like abortion and opposition to same-sex marriage "are fading a little bit" as many states have banned gay marriage and evangelicals turn their attention to other issues.
"There are many evangelicals who'd like to have a broader political agenda that includes the environment and social justice," Green said. "They still care about social issues, but many also care about national security, economic issues, and the environment. It very well may be that Giuliani appeals to evangelicals on these other issues."
Giuliani has consistently supported abortion rights. In a cnn interview earlier this year, he affirmed his support for publicly funded abortions for poor women on the grounds that denying them "would deprive someone of a constitutional right." But he also scored points with social conservatives when he announced his desire to appoint a "strict constructionist" for the Supreme Court and praised the Court's April ruling upholding the congressional ban on partial-birth abortion.
Land believes that even if evangelicals overlook Giuliani's abortion record, they will struggle to overcome his broken marriages.
"He promised at least two wives that he'd love, honor, and cherishtill death do you partand he broke his promises to them," Land said. "Three spouses is at least one spouse too many for most evangelicals."
The decision about whether to support Giuliani will be difficult for conservative evangelicals, said Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow of Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute.
"When evangelicals have to weigh in the balance his obvious leadership skills as opposed to his stance on abortion," she said, "and when they have to weigh his public confidence alongside his personal divorcesthis will be the real litmus test."
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Other coverage of the 2008 presidential race includes:
Speaking Out: Mitt's Mormonism and the 'Evangelical Vote' | Can conservative Protestants vote for a member of what they consider a cult? (May 31, 2007)
Q&A: Hugh Hewitt | Conservative blogger, political analyst, and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt on Romney's bid for the White House. (February 27, 2007)
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