In GOP Presidential Debate, Religion Becomes Politics

By David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 5, 2007

With few disagreements among them on national security or economic policy, the Republican presidential hopefuls used social-issue questions in their Thursday night television debate to separate their positions and appeal to different constituents.

The result was considerably less comfortable for the early front-runner, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, than for his top rivals, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

All three have awkward histories to explain on abortion, immigration, stem cell research or religion. But while Romney navigated smoothly through his exam from MSNBC interviewers and McCain soldiered doggedly ahead, Giuliani on occasion appeared stumped.

The low point for the New Yorker came when moderator Chris Matthews asked each of the 10 contenders if the repeal of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision would be a "good day for America."

"Absolutely," said Romney, the first to respond. It was a sentiment quickly echoed by Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), former Wisconsin governor Tommy G. Thompson and McCain.

When it was his turn, Giuliani offered an unenthusiastic, "It would be okay."

"Okay to repeal?" Matthews asked.

"It would be okay to repeal. It would be [okay] also if a strict constructionist judge viewed [ Roe] as precedent, and I think a judge has to make that decision."

"Would it be okay if they didn't repeal it?" Matthews pressed.

"I think the court has to make that decision, and then the country can deal with it," Giuliani said. "We're a federalist system of government, and states can make their own decisions."

Giuliani's equivocation was pointed up when the next candidate, Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.), said, "After 40 million dead, because we have aborted them in this country, I would say that that would be the greatest day in this country's history, when that, in fact, is overturned."

Later in the 90-minute debate, Giuliani had a chance to expand on his answer. A supporter of abortion rights in New York, he said "I hate abortion" and that he supports the ban on federal funding of the procedure. But he said he thought states should decide their own policy, and he acknowledged having supported state-funded abortions in New York.

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