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Opinion: Giuliani courts social conservatives

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Rudy Giuliani on Tuesday makes what had been a highly anticipated appearance --- he’s speaking at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., the school founded by evangelist Pat Robertson. But the edginess that once surrounded the event may well have dissipated.

The Republican presidential aspirant initially was scheduled to speak at Regent on April 17. The day before, however, the Virginia Tech massacre occurred and Guiliani, like other candidates, cancelled their politicking for several days.

At the time, the former New York mayor was riding high in the polls while, for the most part, skirting the chasm between his views on social issues --- most obviously abortion --- and those of the Christian Right. As a result, his speech and the reception he received at Regent were going to be closely watched. As Charles Dunn, dean of the college’s Robertson School of Government, told a reporter back then, ‘For Giuliani, this is a golden bridge-building opportunity. ... A lot of people are coming because he’s a national hero because of Sept. 11. But a lot are coming to size him up on social-moral issues.’

Tickets for his Tuesday appearance are sold out, as was the case in mid-April. But much else has changed in the political vibe.

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He used a speech to Christian conservatives in mid-May at Houston Baptist University to spell out that while he considered abortion ‘morally wrong,’ he stood by his position that women should have ‘the right to make that choice.’ While acknowledging that voters ‘have a right to evaluate this in figuring out if you can support me, and at what level you can support me,’ he urged a focus on his record on other issues: taxes, crime and terrorism. And at three candidate debates over the past two months, he’s been peppered with questions about his differences with social conservatives.

In short, the tightrope he is trying to walk in this campaign has been on display to a degree it had not been earlier this year.

Signals from the Giuliani camp also indicate that he will try to steer clear of making news. A story in today’s New York Sun reported that he is ‘expected to play it safe’ and talk about proposals to cut taxes and reduce wasteful government spending --- mom-and-apple-pie issues for all parts of the GOP coalition.

Giuliani likely will have coalition-buidling on his mind during the day. Following his stop at Regent, he heads to Rockville, Md. to address the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington at a synagogue.

-- Don Frederick


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