SCOTT SIMON, host:

The first voting for presidential nominees in 2008 now looks to be less than 11 weeks away. The Democratic and Republican field is shaping up quite differently.

On the Democratic side, Senator Hillary Clinton seems to have a clear lead in the polls, but the Republican contest is far less clear with several candidates reaching out to disparate parts of the party, hoping to put the pieces together.

Here is NPR's David Greene.

DAVID GREENE: Let's go back for a second to October 1999, at the same point in the presidential cycle we're at today Republicans as usual were the ones with the clear frontrunner. In fact, George W. Bush was so far ahead he was campaigning for other people.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I want to thank you all for coming to support this good man in the ticket. Work hard.

GREENE: But Mr. Bush's party enjoys no such consensus today. Eight candidates are running, and four or five have a chance to be nominated - one of them, Mitt Romney, put it this way in his pitch to voters this week.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): Conservatives on these states that have heard me time and again recognize that I do speak for the - the Republican - weighing of the Republican Party, and that the base Republican voter wants to see a conservative that will unite the three legs of the Republican stool, which is social conservatives, economic conservatives and military conservatives.

GREENE: But in truth, none of those three groups has settled on a champion. Take the econocons, for example. The Club for Growth is an influential group of fiscal conservatives that met in a Washington hotel this week to hear from GOP hopefuls like Fred Thompson, who served up the kind of message the group likes to hear.

Mr. FRED THOMPSON (Former Republican Senator, Tennessee; Presidential Candidate): I don't buy into this concept of every time you talk about a tax cut you're talking about lost revenue. That revenue is not lost; the American taxpayer knows where it is. It's in his back pocket.

GREENE: Still, club members peppered Thompson with skeptical questions.

Unidentified Man #1: Have you always been a Republican? And, if not, how did you become a Republican?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah. I think it's accurate to say I've always been a Republican.

GREENE: Well, maybe not always. Thompson admitted he grew up in a family of Democrats, but he said in college he read conservative literature and he was hooked.

Mr. THOMPSON: So it's like what we call in the Church of Christ, when I reach the age of accountability, I think it's safe to say that I've been a Republican ever since.

GREENE: Another guest at the Club for Growth was Rudy Giuliani. He said as mayor of New York, he was committed to conservative principles.

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Republican Mayor, New York; Presidential Candidate): That's why George Will wrote - not for any political reason, just as an observation - that I ran the most conservative government in the country in the last 50 years. And he meant by that fiscally conservative, I believe.

GREENE: Giuliani said he understands there are four big risks for the U.S. economy.

Mr. GIULIANI: Overspending, overtaxing, over-regulating and over-suing.

GREENE: Yet it wasn't clear whether Giuliani was getting through either. Rob Reeves(ph) from Philadelphia was at the Club for Growth event. He said he's yet to see a real conservative in the race.

Mr. ROB REEVES (Member, Club for Growth, Philadelphia): I'm not convinced of the intensity or the longevity of how committed they are to it. That's what I'm trying to study - who will be most ardent in fulfilling those principles?

GREENE: Also, in Washington this weekend, the Values Voter Summit sponsored by the Family Research Council.

Unidentified Man #2: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Senator John McCain.

(Soundbite of band playing and crowd cheering)

GREENE: McCain told the group, he's been pro-life his entire public career.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): And I know that I have a personal obligation to advocate human rights wherever they are denied - in Burma, in Bosnia, in Cuba, or the Middle East - and in our own country when we fail to respect the inherent dignity of all human life, born or unborn.

GREENE: And so it went with every Republican White House hopeful seeking the blessing of social conservatives. But none was the obvious favorite of this group either.

Indeed, with the various Republican constituencies all up for grabs, it's a challenge for any of President Bush's would-be successors to reunite his winning coalition of eight years ago.

David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

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