Consensus Lacking in GOP Endorsements

By Michael D. Shear and Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 8, 2007

The endorsements of two Christian conservative leaders yesterday underscored the fractures that remain among evangelical voters less than two months before the first votes will be cast in the Republican presidential nominating contest.

Pat Robertson, the television evangelist who founded the Christian Coalition and once ran for president himself, threw his support behind former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, saying the "overriding issue" in the race is defending against the "bloodlust of Islamic terrorists" and calling abortion "only one issue" of importance.

Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), a former White House hopeful and a favorite among some conservative Christian voters, endorsed Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), whose relationship with evangelical voters was once tarnished when he called Robertson an "agent of intolerance."

Despite efforts by some conservative Christian leaders to unify behind a candidate -- including threats from a few to create a third party if Giuliani becomes the nominee -- no single Republican appears to be winning the lion's share of support in that community.

Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich is backing former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for president. Christian activist Gary Bauer, who ran for president in 2000, is with former senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee. Baptist leader Rick Scarborough has endorsed former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

"We have seen all along that social conservatives are divided among the potential Republican nominees," said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster not affiliated with any campaign. "This reinforces that division."

McCain's campaign hailed Brownback's endorsement as a boon for the senator's efforts in Iowa, where he has lagged badly in the polls. "Senator Brownback has a big following in Iowa," said Dave Roederer, chairman of McCain's Iowa campaign. "This sends a strong signal that Senator Brownback believes . . . McCain would make the best president."

Robertson stood by Giuliani yesterday to pledge his support for a man he said would attack out-of-control federal spending, appoint conservative judges, reduce crime and fight terrorism. Not once did Robertson mention abortion, same-sex marriage or gun control -- three issues on which Giuliani's stances are frequently criticized by social conservatives.

In an interview after his announcement, Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, said he hopes his decision will help unite people of faith. "Abortion is important, but it's only one issue," Robertson said. "Given the fractured nature of the process, I thought it was time to solidify around one candidate."

Connie Mackey, a senior vice president of the Family Research Council, disputed Robertson's contention that Giuliani was an acceptable candidate for Christian conservatives.

"This is a man whose supporters basically are pro-family, pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage, and here he has stepped away from them to endorse a candidate who has been very honest in saying he does not support those issues," Mackey said of Robertson. "It's beyond puzzling -- it's a little strange."

Senior Giuliani aides said they believe they can use Robertson's endorsement to buck conventional wisdom, which has long held that socially conservative voters will not embrace the former mayor on Election Day.

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