Giuliani Pitches Christian Conservatives at Regent Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani addressed Christian voters Tuesday at Regent University. His appearance on televangelist Pat Robertson's turf was much anticipated because of Giuliani's stance in support of a woman's right to have an abortion.
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Giuliani Pitches Christian Conservatives at Regent

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Giuliani Pitches Christian Conservatives at Regent

Giuliani Pitches Christian Conservatives at Regent

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


And I'm Melissa Block.

Republican presidential contender Rudolph Giuliani made a pitch to Christian conservatives today at Regent University in Virginia Beach, founded by the evangelist Pat Robertson. Giuliani supports abortion rights and gay rights, positions widely out of step with those of his audience.

We've called reporter David Saltonstall to find out about the speech and how it went over. David has been following the Giuliani campaign for the New York Daily News, and joins us from Virginia Beach. Hi, David.

Mr. DAVID SALTONSTALL (Senior Correspondent, New York Daily News): Good to be with you.

BLOCK: Giuliani was expected to steer clear of these social issues. Today, in the speech, did he do that?

Mr. SALTONSTALL: He did indeed stick to a script. There was no mention of the word abortion or gay rights or anything else that's likely to get him in some trouble with, you know, Christian fundamentalist voters of the kind that filled this auditorium. But, at the same time, Rudy Giuliani got a standing ovation. And, you know, I think generally it was well received.

BLOCK: So what was his message to those voters?

Mr. SALTONSTALL: Well, he strayed quite far from his basic stump speech at first and went back to the speech that he used to get paid a lot of money to give, which is the one on leadership. It should be said that this part of Pat Robertson's executive leadership series, so it wasn't exactly off-topic there.

And then he did eventually segue into more of a traditional stump speech, but he did not mention the social issues of abortion or gay rights. The closest he came is saying that, you know, we're not going to agree on everything. And I don't even agree with myself on everything. You know, it's just his typical laugh line. And that was about it.

BLOCK: The people who you describe as giving his a standing ovation, David, did you get the sense that they were applauding a man whom they respect as a former mayor of New York City or were they actually giving some support to the idea that this is a guy I could vote for president?

Mr. SALTONSTALL: I think it's a little bit of both, but mostly the former. I think having traveled with Giuliani quite a bit, the 9/11 image that people hold in their heads is indelible, and I think goes deeper than just about any other recollection that people may have of a politician in this day and age. So I think they stand in recognition of that event, and I think it has very little to do with his politics and his bid for the presidency. That's not to say they won't vote for him, but I think the jury is still out on that one.

BLOCK: If you look at what he has said recently on abortion - in a recent debate he said this, my view on abortion is that it's wrong, but that ultimately government should not be enforcing that decision on a woman. When you talk to conservative voters like the ones who were in the audience today, do they find that answer palatable? Is that something they could go along with?

Mr. SALTONSTALL: It's something that they seem willing to accept, and that's been surprising to me. Rudy definitely does have one foot on both sides of this issue, you know, saying he's personally opposed to abortion. He would counsel women against it but, at the same time, he says, government should have no role there.

BLOCK: Would these voters though feel more comfortable with a presumed candidate, like the former senator Fred Thompson who is a much stricter conservative than Rudolph Giuliani?

Mr. SALTONSTALL: I think they probably would, but then you get to the issue of electability. They just went through a congressional midterm election, which is still very fresh in their minds. The Republicans lost Congress, and they don't want to lose. And I think they see the very strong possibility that Hillary Clinton could well be the Democratic nominee. So, to them, it becomes who's best to beat Hillary Clinton. And I think a lot of people believe it's Rudy Giuliani.

BLOCK: Okay, David Saltonstall, thanks a lot.

Mr. SALTONSTALL: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: David Saltonstall is a senior correspondent with the New York Daily News.

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