Court Vacancies, Electability Must Be Issues in GOP Primary Race, Some Conservatives Say

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - Republican primary voters unimpressed with the leading contenders in the 2008 presidential primary race must "maintain an open mind" if they do not want Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) or Sen. Barack Obama(D-Ill.) to fill upcoming vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court, according to evangelical leaders and conservative Catholics.

Many influential conservatives are attaching special value to electability at a time when Democrats are wielding control of Congress and are determined to win back the White House too.

The eventual nominee's potential appeal in so-called "blue states" has been cited by party strategists and public officials who have thrown early support behind former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Although he understands the misgivings pro-life voters have about Giuliani - who leads the Republican field - Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, told Cybercast News Service a "purist" approach would be self-defeating.

He called Giuliani a "straight shooter" who orchestrated a remarkable turnaround in New York City in the face of stiff opposition. Donohue also credited the former mayor for joining with "people of faith" to oppose an exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum of Art "very disrespectful of the Virgin Mary."

But it is Giuliani's commitment to appoint "strict constructionists" to the U.S. Supreme Court that should matter most to Christian activists, Donohue said.

"Social conservatives are going into this campaign with some degree of reservation, if not trepidation," he acknowledged. "But when push comes to shove, there is a day and night difference" between the three leading GOP contenders and their Democratic counterparts, he added.

"The problem with the pro-life movement is that some people are purist, and as far as I'm concerned, they're detrimental to the cause," Donohue said. "It's important to be principled, but it's also important to be prudential."

Not buying his message

Giuliani was scheduled to speak last week at Regent University in Virginia Beach but canceled his appearance after the Virginia Tech tragedy. He will now speak there on June 26, and a number of students told Cybercast News Service they keenly await his visit.

Law student Miles Terry said Christian conservatives respect Giuliani but are not yet "in love with him." Like any relationship, Giuliani must put in "time and courting."

Candidates like Giuliani must "earn their votes" - or they may be less inclined to deliver on campaign commitments once in office, he said.

"I don't buy his message," said Matt Trollinger, another law student.

"He's been on the record saying that he would not support a partial birth abortion ban. He is personally against abortion but says consistently that it's a 'constitutional right.' In the same breath, he then says that he would appoint strict constructionist judges. To me that's an oxymoron," Trollinger added.

Charles Dunn, dean of the school of government, told Cybercast News Service that pro-lifers in fact have a "big stake" in Giuliani's campaign.

"Without him, they could lose everything," Dunn said.

Dunn anticipates Giuliani's Regent speech may be giving one of the most important of his campaign.

Baxter Ennis, who organizes the "Executive Leadership Series" that will feature Giuliani, said the event "took off like a guided missile" when the announcement was made.

Normally, series events attract anywhere from 100 to 200 people, he said. By comparison, more than 600 people registered for the event earlier this month, and additional room has been made Giuliani's re-scheduled appearance.

Base 'antagonized'

Although McCain ran a "credible campaign" in 2000, Jim Davids, president of the Christian Legal Society and an assistant dean of law and government at Regent, thinks it is unlikely the senator from Arizona will repeat the achievement in 2008.

McCain, he said, has "antagonized" the Republican base on issues like campaign finance reform and illegal immigration.

Janice Crouse, a spokeswoman for the Concerned Woman for America's political action committee, told Cybercast News Service that McCain "has never been popular with any branch of conservatism."

"It may be too late for him to prove himself," she said.

Meanwhile Romney, also seeking to woo Christian conservatives, is scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Regent on May 5.

Jordan Sekulow, a law student who works as a consultant on Romney's campaign, said prospective voters should look at his record as governor of Massachusetts, where he closed a $3 billion budget gap during his first year in office by eliminating waste and streamlining government.

Romney was willing to confront the judicial activism of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of same-sex "marriage," Sekulow added.

Although Romney has acknowledged he was not always a "Reagan Republican" on the question of abortion, he said, he ultimately converted to the pro-life view. This change of heart should be a source of comfort, not consternation, for Christian voters, Sekulow argued.

"I grew up in the pro-life movement where the whole purpose is to change people's minds," he said.

Some critics on the right, however, accuse Romney of policy "flip-flops."

Deal W. Hudson, director of Morley Institute for Church and Culture Director, has argued in his blog for conservative Catholics that Romney's "late-life" conversion to a pro-life viewpoint should "raise eyebrows" among Catholics.

Donohue also said there is good cause "not to trust" Romney, since he "made it clear to everyone in Massachusetts" during earlier campaigns that he was an abortion-rights supporter.

'Competitive in 50 states'

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) is also working to win people over, but for a different candidate.

"What is a good conservative boy, completely in support of the Second Amendment, life member of the NRA, an avid hunter, an eagle scout who believes in family values, with a 100 percent pro-life record doing supporting Rudy Giuliani?" he asked.

The answer, Sessions said in an interview, is that he believes Giuliani to be a principled conservative, close in mind and spirit to Ronald Reagan.

"Giuliani did for New York City what Ronald Reagan did for America," Sessions said. "He revolutionized the place."

While not in complete agreement with his long-time friend on every issue, Sessions said he is "comfortable" with Giuliani's positions on life issues and Second Amendment rights.

Sessions also encourages conservatives to reflect on the electability factor before they dismiss Giuliani's candidacy. It would be a mistake, he said, to rely on red states.

"Giuliani is the first candidate since Reagan who will be competitive on a 50-state basis," Sessions argued. "He will place Mrs. Clinton on the defensive in places where she and the Democratic Party have always held the advantage."

See Related Story:
Conservatives Ponder Giuliani (April 23, 2007)

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