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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And in this part of the program, two stories about how public opinion polls are affecting the presidential race.

We begin with news that some prominent social conservatives are considering leaving the Republican Party if Rudy Giuliani is the Republican presidential nominee.

Giuliani has views on a number of social issues that have alienated conservatives, notably his support of abortion rights. But he continues to lead the GOP field in most national polls.

Here's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: This weekend in Salt Lake City, a group of leading social conservatives, who are all members of an organization called the Council for National Policy, agreed on a resolution that said if the Republican Party nominates a, quote, "pro-abortion" candidate, we will consider running a third-party candidate.

Veteran conservative activist Richard Viguerie, who's just written a book called "Conservatives Betrayed," was one of the participants.

Mr. RICHARD VIGUERIE (Author, "Conservatives Betrayed"): It's beyond just abortion. Well, that is perhaps the most visible issue that unites us. There's a general feeling among social conservatives, as well as economic conservatives, that they have been betrayed by the Republican Party.

LIASSON: Many social conservatives aren't thrilled with any of the current leading Republican candidates. But it's Giuliani that's caused the most angst.

Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer, who joined the Salt Lake City meeting by phone, is urging caution. He says he understands the frustration but worries that public threats to form a third-party could backfire.

Mr. GARY BAUER (Conservative Leader): Nobody's actually voted in a Republican primary yet. And it's not clear to me how, by blowing up the Republican Party and guaranteeing the election of Hillary Clinton - it's not clear to me how that ends up saving unborn children, since I know, without a shadow of a doubt, the kind of judges that President Clinton would put on the Supreme Court.

LIASSON: And this, of course, brings up what the Giuliani camp hopes is their trump card - they point to polls showing Giuliani running better than any other Republican against Hillary Clinton, whom many presume will be the Democratic nominee.

California Congressman David Dreier is the Giuliani campaign's national co-chairman. He says he doesn't believe conservatives will bolt.

Representative DAVID DREIER (Republican, California): So I believe, at the end of the day, that these conservatives will recognize that if it's the priority to ensure that we don't see Hillary Clinton become president of the United States, that Rudy Giuliani is the man best equipped to win.

Mr. VIGUERIE: If the Republican Party wants to nominate liberal Republican, then they can - and we're not going to be driven by the fear of Hillary.

LIASSON: Richard Viguerie.

Mr. VIGUERIE: All my political life, liberal Republicans have tried to scare conservatives into supporting liberal Republican candidates, and it has never, ever worked. It didn't work in 1948 with Dewey, Nixon in 1960, Ford in 1976, George H.W. Bush in 1992, and it won't work this time.

LIASSON: In all those elections, Viguerie argues, conservatives stayed home. That's the message this group is trying to send to the Republican Party establishment, says Dr. Richard Land. He's the head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Although a member of the Council for National Policy, he was not at the meeting this weekend.

Dr. RICHARD LAND (Head, Southern Baptist Convention Public Policy Arm): A significant portion of our constituencies are not going to vote for Rudy Giuliani, and it's best that you know that now. Because if you're counting on them coming back and voting for Giuliani as the lesser of two evils, a lot of them aren't going to do it.

LIASSON: David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, says the group was trying to stop Giuliani's momentum now while they can.

Mr. DAVID KEENE (Chairman, American Conservative Union): What they're doing is not so much mounting the threat of a real candidacy against Rudy, but they're trying to reach their grassroots followers, saying, look at this guy, he's not somebody that we want.

LIASSON: Many analysts and many conservatives assumed that as rank-and-file Republicans learned about Giuliani's liberal-social views, his support would evaporate. But it hasn't. And once the whirlwind of primaries starts, these conservatives fear it may be too late to stop him.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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