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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

You'd think Republicans wouldn't need yet another candidate, but over the weekend a group of Christian conservatives says they might back a third party candidate. Liberal Democrats are saying similar things.

Here with our regular Monday chat about politics is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING: Hello, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, let's start with the Republicans. This group, who are they and what do they want?

ELVING: This group of conservatives, many of whom have been part of something called the Arlington Group going back about five years, have been meeting regularly to talk about bringing forward conservative, frequently Christian but religious values in American politics, and they've had some success in supporting politicians such as George W. Bush.

They look at the field in 2008 in the two parties - roughly 18 candidates we've been talking about - and they don't find anybody they can support. There had been thought that they would suddenly coalesce behind Fred Thompson, but that's not happening. And part of the reason they had this meeting in Utah over the weekend was to agree that Fred was not what they were looking for. And to start talking about the possibility that no Republican will emerge - or Democrat - who would get their vote, who would get their loyalty, and that they might want to run a third party or an independent candidate of their own.

BRAND: So Fred Thompson is not who they're looking for. I imagine Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney, they're also not attractive?

ELVING: Not attractive enough. In particular, Rudy Giuliani is anathema to this group, not only because of his support for abortion rights and gay marriage and gun control, but also because of his personal life. So they've made it very clear that this is not a man that they would rally support for and that if he is the Republican nominee, that would be perhaps the strongest incentive, the big trigger for them to actually go third-party.

BRAND: Well, you know, there already is a strong social conservative in the race and his name is Mike Huckabee. Why not back him?

ELVING: That's a bit of a mystery to me, but Mike Huckabee has not attracted enough financing to be in the category these gentlemen would consider viable. In other words, they would be backing someone who would not have the financial wherewithal to really compete with the major candidates, and therefore they're not putting him on the map, although he is a Baptist minister, has been a Baptist minister, and has much appeal, I think, to exactly the kind of social and religious conservatives that the Arlington Group would naturally think of as their constituency.

BRAND: Although if they back him, presumably then he would have more money.

BOWMAN: Perhaps, although this has not been as easy as one might think. Since the social conservative movement in this country has been quite popular - populous - you would think that it would be a great source of money, but it has not had the kind of independent financial wherewithal that you need nowadays to compete in the kind of fundraising extravaganza that we've become used to.

BRAND: So meanwhile, are Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, are they just shrugging and saying, oh well, I don't really need your support since you're not as powerful as you once were?

BOWMAN: I think that they both have other ways of raising the money piece, so they don't have to worry that much about getting money from these folks. What they're interested in more from the social conservatives, of course, would be their vote and support. And of course Mitt Romney shares their positions, at least now, on all the issues that they're highlighting, and Rudy Giuliani is clearly not.

I mean, Rudy Giuliani is saying in the end I want all kinds of conservatives - economic, national security, and social conservatives, religious conservatives, to rally to the party and to me for national security reasons. I'm Mr. 9/11, I'll keep you safe from terrorism, and all the rest of this is issues on the side. And then there's one other thing, and this is maybe the main thing from the standpoint of the Republican presidential candidates. They are saying to the religious conservatives you must stick with the Republican Party because if there is a schism, if you go away, you will elect Hillary Clinton. They don't say a Democrat, they don't say somebody else, they say Hillary Clinton. That's the one thing all Republicans have come to agree on in this fall of 2007. They all believe the Democratic nominee will be Hillary.

BRAND: Ron, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: That's NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving.

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