Republican Contenders Vie for Christian Support

Washington is bursting at the seams this weekend with Republican presidential candidates, who have come to court some of the core voters of the Republican Party: Christian conservatives. They're in town for the Family Research Council's conference for "values voters."

A succession of Republican politicians at the Washington Hilton were each trying to convince this essential subgroup of the party that he is candidate that represents Christian values.

That included Arizona Sen. John McCain, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani.

In national polls, Giuliani is far ahead of other Republican candidates. The former mayor of New York widely respected in the party for leading New York City in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and he's credited by many Republicans for reducing crime and taxes in the city. But when it comes to the social conservatives at this conference, Giuliani has a very big problem: abortion.

Giuliani is trying to convince conservatives that he has much more in common with them than he has differences. And to further apply a salve to the wound of being pro-choice in these voters eyes, Giuliani speaks in the code of the pro-life movement.

"No set of decisions the next president makes will be more important than the judges that that president appoints," Giuliani told the crowd. "I would appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Justice Scalia,Thomas, Alito or Chief Justice Roberts."

Giuliani's pledge for strict, constructionist judges may have won him some supporters.

If he's telling the truth about appointing strict constructionist judges, I don't have a problem with that," said Mark Williamson of Houston. "I think that, in a sense, Giuliani is the Republican's worst-case scenario, but our worst-case scenario is far ahead of the Democrat's best-case scenario."

But Giuliani didn't change everybody's mind.

"Honestly, most people did not care for him till 9/11 happened," said Joyce Zounis of Denver. "He became a hero, rightly so. But, I don't think it qualifies him to run our country."

Another candidate who is working up a sweat this weekend, trying to appeal to Christian voters, is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Romney has his own set of problems with this crowd. Many say that Romney has shifted his positions on several key issues, like abortion and discrimination against gay people. Some conservatives even call Romney a flip-flopper.

But that isn't Romney's biggest problem when he looks out at this Christian crowd. It is his faith.

"By the way, I imagine that one or two of you may have heard that I'm Mormon," he told the crowd. "I understand that some people think they can't support someone of my faith, but I think that's just because they've listened to Harry Reid."

All joking aside, Romney's Mormon religion does pose a problem for some Christian conservatives that might otherwise identify with him. Some evangelical churches consider Mormonism a cult. So more than anything, Romney's message to these voters is: I'm just like you.

So did Romney relieve these conservatives' worries?

"He's an impressive man, but I think I have questions of faith about him," said Gary McHale of Scottsdale, Ariz., adding, "I think the theological question is big for me."

In talking to voters in this crowd, one name comes up again and again: Mike Huckabee. He has executive experience governing Arkansas, conservative chops on the issues, and he's a pastor – a big draw for evangelical voters. But in the national polls, Huckabee is only getting about 5 percent.

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