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Giuliani rallies supporters at his state headquarters

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Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, appearing before campaign supporters Tuesday in Glendale, used his moderate brand on issues like abortion rights and immigration to appeal to California Republicans and deflect recent political shots from his GOP presidential rivals.

Giuliani's visit to Southern California came as the National Right to Life Committee announced that it was endorsing former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who ranks second in national polls on the GOP race. The committee said he was the candidate with the best chance of beating Giuliani, who supports abortion rights.

As that was announced, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- who will be campaigning in Southern California this week -- accused Giuliani of coddling illegal immigrants while he was mayor.

Giuliani appeared unfazed. As Romney, Thompson and the other GOP candidates try to build momentum for the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and with socially conservative voters in the Midwest and South, Giuliani has zeroed in on California, New York and other big states -- where his moderate stances on social issues and his anti-tax agenda have received a warmer reception.

"I expect to win the Republican nomination, but believe it or not, I don't expect to win every vote," Giuliani told reporters after learning of the antiabortion group's endorsement of Thompson. "I'm going to be myself. I'm going to do the best that I can to explain to the American people what I believe, and then I am very comfortable with their judgment as to whether or not they think that's enough, or they don't."

Giuliani stopped at his state campaign headquarters in Glendale, offering a pep talk to a room full of volunteers, after attending an early morning fundraiser in Irvine and another in Chinatown.

On ready display in Glendale was his post-9/11 tough-guy persona and emphasis on national security issues, both of which have helped give the former mayor a double-digit lead over his closest Republican challengers in national polls.

He assured his supporters that the U.S. can "achieve victory" in Iraq. Giuliani added that he had the conviction and political strength to protect America from terrorist threats and dangers posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, pointing to his experience in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks and the drop in crime in the city during his tenure as mayor. "We're going to make sure this country is strong, strong against terrorism, strong against any would-be enemy, strong economically," he said.

Giuliani's political appeal has helped him make inroads with social conservatives, even if they disagree with his stances on abortion, gay rights, immigration and gun control. Earlier this month, Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson endorsed Giuliani, saying the former mayor was the most qualified candidate to address the Islamic terrorist "blood lust" threatening the country.

Still, Giuliani's national poll numbers among GOP voters have not risen above the low 30s, and a Field Poll released in October showed that his support among likely voters in the Feb. 5 California primary had dropped to 25%. That represented a 10 percentage point decline in just two months, although he still led all other Republican candidates.

The Romney campaign has been quick to try to take advantage of the drop and this week has ripped Giuliani's record on illegal immigration. On Tuesday, Romney aides accused Giuliani of providing a sanctuary for illegal immigrants in New York City and of supporting tuition assistance for them.

Without directly addressing that criticism, Giuliani said he is a strong advocate of cracking down on illegal immigration, which he called a national security threat. He said he supports construction of a wall along the border, which would include technology-based "virtual" sections, and he backs new, secured identification cards for all future immigrants.

"It's about time that we really ended illegal immigration, and extended legal immigration. And you have to do one in order to do the other," said Giuliani, whose record on immigration is relatively liberal compared to the views of his GOP rivals.

Despite his lead in the polls here, Giuliani acknowledged that California's GOP political primary will be one of the nation's most demanding.

Before the 2004 primary, the state party changed the way votes would be tallied. Instead of awarding all the state's delegates to the candidate who wins the statewide vote, the GOP will assign three delegates to the winner in each of the state's 53 congressional districts. Eleven at-large delegates also go to the top vote-getter in the state, and three delegates are unpledged.

"This is a very unusual primary, because it's congressional district by congressional district, which is why we need all these volunteers," Giuliani said.

phil.willon@latimes.com

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