Social Issues Dog Giuliani

By: Wall Street Journal

Conservatives in South Carolina Prove to Be a Tough Sell
October 22, 2007

GREENVILLE, S.C. — At a recent Republican Party barbecue, Dennis Jones and state Rep. Garry Smith greeted each other like old friends. They chatted about dessert recipes. They joked about being Smith and Jones. They lamented Washington’s big-spending ways.

But when the conversation turned to Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, Messrs. Smith and Jones were more like Messrs. Hatfield and McCoy. Mr. Smith smiled sweetly, but made it clear to Mr. Jones, the county Giuliani campaign chairman, that he doesn’t think much of the former New York City mayor or his record as a social moderate.

“He’ll have a hard time taking my guns away,” Mr. Smith warned Mr. Jones.

It’s pretty frustrating being Rudy Giuliani’s man in what may well be the most conservative county in one of the most conservative states in the Union.

Statewide, Mr. Giuliani is doing surprisingly well in South Carolina. Most polls show him tied for the lead in the Republican nominating contest with former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, the South’s favorite son in the race.

Mr. Giuliani’s support seems strongest on the less-conservative coast. His political history of supporting abortion rights, gay civil unions and gun control, along with his personal history of infidelity and divorce, make him a tough sell among the Bible-believing folk of Greenville County, which accounts for one in 10 of the state’s Republican primary voters.

Greenville is a particularly stark example of the challenge Mr. Giuliani faces nationwide in his quest to lead the party. Over the weekend, he confronted it directly with a speech to a convention of religious and social conservatives in Washington, telling the “Values Voters Summit” that he came “with an open mind and an open heart, and all I ask is that you do the same.”

The results were mixed. The audience gave him a relatively warm reception. But in a straw poll of nearly 6,000 Family Research Council members, Mr. Giuliani placed eighth of nine candidates, with less than 2% of the vote.

In Greenville, the Giuliani campaign has left matters in the pinky-ringed hands of the 65-year-old Mr. Jones, a gregarious, blue-eyed retiree from New Jersey. A lifelong Republican, Mr. Jones spent a career in the pharmaceutical industry, and served in local elected offices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania before retiring to Greenville in 2001.

He likes that at restaurants here many people pray before eating, though he doesn’t do so himself. His Republicanism is of the low-tax, strong-national-defense, law-and-order, live-and-let-live brand. He couldn’t care less if gay men marry each other. He and his wife have a framed photo of the Twin Towers in the living room.

Even before Sept. 11, Mr. Jones liked the way Mr. Giuliani handled New York City. “You had drunks lying in the street,” he says. “You had those guys who came out and washed your windshield. Rudy took care of all of that. Everybody said New York couldn’t be tamed, and Rudy did it.”

So Mr. Jones was quick to volunteer after Mr. Giuliani declared his candidacy earlier this year. It hasn’t been easy — and sometimes the campaign itself seems to make things tougher.

When Mr. Giuliani spoke at the county Republican Party convention this spring, he declined to buy a $250 full-page ad in the program, even though former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney did so. “Giuliani’s own campaign didn’t see the value in purchasing an ad in the convention program,” says county Republican chairman Samuel Harms, still cross about the slight. To soothe bruised feelings, Mr. Jones paid for a half-page ad himself. At the convention, Mr. Romney won a delegates’ straw poll; Mr. Giuliani came in a distant fourth.

Mr. Giuliani came through town earlier this month for a brief public meet-and-greet at a local coffee shop. Perhaps 100 people showed up. Inside, Mr. Jones ran into Doug Wavle, who represents Greenville on the state Republican executive committee. Mr. Wavle describes the county as “Bible-believing” and predicts peace won’t come to the Middle East until “the Lord Jesus Christ returns to Earth.” Mr. Giuliani, he says, doesn’t meet the strict moral standards he and his neighbors set. “I’m here just to be a good host,” Mr. Wavle told Mr. Jones. “This is not my candidate, and you know why.”

Asked during the event how well he’d do among the local social conservatives, Mr. Giuliani pointed to polls that rank him high among Evangelical voters. Mr. Giuliani is betting that Sept. 11 caused a fundamental shift in the party, leaving Republicans who once have voted on social issues willing to support a moderate candidate strong on national defense.

“The big, surprising news is how strong a candidate I am in South Carolina,” Mr. Giuliani told the crowd.

But the Republicans of Greenville County seem particularly resistant to his message. “Americans have become far more accepting of the stances which Giuliani has carried forth,” says Frank S. Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in nearby Taylors and president of the national Southern Baptist Convention. “That being said, I do believe in Greenville County he will face serious opposition.”

Mr. Jones says poor organization is also hurting Mr. Giuliani here. For months he has been attending Republican functions, handing out campaign literature that he has photocopied himself and looking enviously at the glossy brochures, stickers and DVDs at the Romney table.

Earlier this month, Ryan Meerstein, the state campaign director, finally sent him 10 Giuliani buttons and a small packet of brochures. “I’ve been telling Ryan — send us the ones on abortion, the ones on gun control and the ones on health care,” Mr. Jones said. “A lot of people here have questions about those.”

Mr. Jones brought a few buttons to the coffee-shop event, where a campaign official advised him to “keep those for the hard-core people — we’ve got stickers for everyone else.” That evening, Mr. Jones went to the $15-a-head barbecue for the Upstate Republican Women’s Club. He chatted with Bob Taylor, dean of the college of arts and sciences at Bob Jones University, a conservative Christian school in Greenville. Mr. Taylor told Mr. Jones bluntly that if Mr. Giuliani wins the nomination, he might not vote for him — and he wouldn’t be the only one to abandon the party.

“I’ve got a tough row to hoe,” Mr. Jones said on the drive home. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Write to Michael M. Phillips at

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