Conservative activist Eugene Delgaudio knows how to seize a political moment when he sees one.
To mark the anniversary of Chappaquiddick, Delgaudio, a Loudoun County supervisor by day, hosted a march on Capitol Hill of people in bathing suits calling themselves the "Ted Kennedy Swim Team."
At a gay rights march in Washington, he set aside a "Sodomy Free Zone" and, at the Democratic convention, he hosted a "Man-Donkey Mock Wedding Ceremony."
Way back in 1987, in support of Robert H. Bork's Supreme Court nomination, he sponsored "Criminals Against Bork," a group of actors dressed as thugs who cheered Democrats for opposing the nominee.
But in front of the Supreme Court yesterday, Delgaudio turned his flamboyant protest on one of his own: John G. Roberts Jr., a conservative judge tapped by a conservative president for the high court.
"Judge Roberts assisted the forces that would criminalize Christianity," Delgaudio shouted toward a clump of two dozen journalists and a similar number of tourists, many wearing orange "Old Town Trolley" stickers. Calling on President Bush to withdraw the nomination, Delgaudio, president of a group called Public Advocate of the United States, demanded: "How can you assist the forces that we consider anti-morality and still claim to be on the side of God?"
This performance by Delgaudio can mean one of two things for nominee Roberts: either that conservative opposition to him is coalescing after it was learned last week that he gave pro bono legal advice to gay-rights advocates; or, that conservative support for Roberts is so strong that only a fringe character such as Delgaudio would oppose him.
The latter interpretation seems rather more likely, as conservative organizations continue to rally behind Roberts (the National Association of Manufacturers joined the parade yesterday). When the Drudge Report posted word Tuesday of Delgaudio's plans, the pro-Bush National Review jumped into action. Writer John Podhoretz called Delgaudio "an extremely obscure person with an extremely obscure organization," and said "he and it are getting attention solely because they are doing the media's bidding by making the Roberts nomination appear controversial on the Right, which it isn't."
Delgaudio seemed a bit sensitive to that accusation yesterday, repeatedly mentioning that he was not, in fact, alone. "I may be alone here today, but I speak for many. I believe that. I know that. I've talked to others," he said. Later, he added: "This discussion is not mine alone." Finally, he concluded, needlessly: "If I didn't make it clear, I am not alone. But I am alone today." But his only evidence of this was some grumbling from Howard Phillips's Constitution Party, which seconded the doubts on Roberts voiced by incendiary commentator Ann Coulter.
The Loudoun supervisor was, it must be said, a bit of a showman. He directed two young aides to stand at his side while he gave his news conference but forgot one's name when he went to introduce them; he directed another aide with a camera to "try to get your shots in with all the reporters interviewing me." Soon after the event, the Public Advocate Web site boasted that "reporters flocked" to see Delgaudio.
Still, 25 journalists did flock to hear the words of the 50-year-old activist, who was dressed in dark gray suit, thick glasses and worn shoes. He began by waving a piece of mail in front of the camera, asserting that his planned pro-Roberts mailing, "which was projected to mail over a million pieces, is canceled."
The letter Delgaudio waved, addressed to a man in Montana, was marked returned-to-sender with a green "DECEASED" stamp over the addressee. When asked to provide a copy of the mailing, Delgaudio refused, saying, "It's something we're not putting out."
But there is little doubt that Delgaudio did, originally, support Roberts. A July 20 statement on his Web site said Bush "kept his word to the conservative electorate" and promised that "Public Advocate plans to stand by this nominee."
Delgaudio recited his conservative credentials for the cameras -- he supported both Bork and Clarence Thomas -- but said he could not support a man who volunteered to help gay-rights advocates. "Mr. Roberts's actions cast doubt on his support of the American family," Delgaudio said, almost shouting.
But his questioners were skeptical. A reporter from the Christian publication Family News told Delgaudio that there have been "rumblings" of discontent but no defections among conservatives. "The first person is always the hardest," he replied. Pressed again about the lack of support for his position, Delgaudio allowed that "some people say I talk too much." But, he predicted, "I think others will join me in the days ahead."
A few feet away, one already had -- but not the sort of ally Delgaudio was seeking. Robert Boston, a spokesman for the liberal group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was giving interviews about why his organization opposes Roberts for entirely different reasons.
Boston welcomed Delgaudio's defection -- to a point. Asked if the two might join forces against Roberts, Boston smiled at the notion. "I don't think so," he said.