Romney and Giuliani Make Pitch to Conservatives

March 3, 2007 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment


Published: March 3, 2007

WASHINGTON, March 2 — Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York are both Republican presidential candidates who have been voted into office by largely Democratic electorates. They both have a history of taking liberal positions on social issues. And both are viewed warily by conservative Republicans who are integral to the party’s presidential nominating process. Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, sought to address those challenges on Friday with speeches to conservative advocates gathered for an annual conference in Washington.

To a certain extent, they approached the task in similar ways: by presenting themselves as devotees of Ronald Reagan who had tamed Democratic excesses in their communities. Mr. Giuliani talked about cutting crime, welfare and taxes; Mr. Romney talked of cutting taxes and the size of government.

Yet they parted company on how they dealt with the more difficult question of their positions on social issues. Mr. Romney made no mention of his past support of abortion rights and gay rights, instead focusing on his current opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. He portrayed himself as someone who stood at the barricades as his state sought to permit same-sex marriage and to remove restrictions from abortion and stem cell research.

“I stood at the center of the battlefield on every major social issue,” Mr. Romney said in a speech to the gathering, the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I fought to preserve our traditional values, and to protect the sanctity of human life. I vetoed bills. I filed new bills. I enforced a law that banned out-of-state same-sex couples from coming to Massachusetts to get married.”

Mr. Giuliani made no mention of his support for gay rights, abortion rights and gun control. Instead, he suggested that he and his audience had many more agreements than disagreements.

“Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘My 80 percent ally is not my 20 percent enemy,’ ” Mr. Giuliani said. “What he meant by that is, we don’t all see eye to eye on everything. You and I have a lot of common beliefs that are the same, and we have some that are different.”

“We do believe in many of the same things, I’m sure,” he said. “We believe in giving freedom to people. I think the core of the Republican Party and the historic mission of the Republican Party and the Republican Party makes its greatest contribution when it’s giving more freedom to people.”

The third major Republican presidential contender, Senator John McCain of Arizona, skipped the event; his aides said he was raising money in California and Utah. But his absence did not shield him from attacks, albeit indirect ones. Mr. Romney invoked bills Mr. McCain had sponsored to control campaign financing and his alliance with Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts on legislation to permit some illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship, two unpopular measures in this audience.

“If I’m elected president, I will fight to repeal McCain-Feingold,” Mr. Romney said, referring to the campaign spending bill. The conference drew thousands of attendees, many of whom waited in a long line out the door for a late-afternoon appearance by Ann Coulter, the conservative author and commentator. Still, the tone of the conference was less excitement about the 2008 campaign than concern about the ideological credentials of the three leading contenders for the Republican nomination.

Mr. Giuliani arrived to a rousing reception, but the room grew silent and restless as Mr. Giuliani wandered through a speech that lasted 40 minutes. By contrast, Mr. Romney arrived to a much more subdued reception but left to rousing applause.

“The governor knocked this speech out of the park,” said Paloma A. Zepeda, a marketing consultant and conservative blogger who said she came into the room with “serious doubts” about Mr. Romney, and left saying she was leaning toward supporting him. By contrast, she said, Mr. Giuliani “took a risk by coming to C.P.A.C., and he managed to not allay a single conservative fear about a Giuliani candidacy.”

In perhaps an unlucky bit of scheduling, Mr. Giuliani appeared after Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, who gave a blistering attack on gun laws pressed for New York City by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, also a Republican, who was elected with Mr. Giuliani’s very strong support. “Everything they do in New York City on guns smacks of hypocrisy,” Mr. LaPierre said.

He made no mention of Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Giuliani did not address Mr. LaPierre’s criticism.

Mr. Giuliani focused on what has been one of his electoral strengths: his performance as mayor after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Mr. Giuliani departed from a standard criticism of President Bill Clinton by Republicans, who have faulted him for not recognizing the emerging terrorist threat after the first attack on the World Trade Center and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.

“I don’t blame people for that,” he said. “ I don’t think it’s instructive or helpful to do that.”

The problem for conservatives is that the candidates they may be more inclined to support — Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas — are generally seen as being longer-shots to winning the nomination. Mr. Huckabee got in a jab, making reference to Mr. Romney’s disclosure last week that he had only recently joined the National Rifle Association. “I’m not a latecomer to the N.R.A.,” Mr. Huckabee said. “I was the first governor in America to have a concealed carry permit, so don’t mess with me.”


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