Robertson’s Support of Giuliani Underscores Evangelical Divide


By: Wall Street Journal

By MARY JACOBY and SUSAN DAVIS
November 8, 2007

WASHINGTON — In the latest evidence that evangelical Christians are as split as the rest of the Republican voters, Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani, who has been divorced twice and supports abortion rights, for the Republican nomination.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that white voters who identified themselves as evangelicals are divided evenly among Mr. Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came in fourth.

Recent endorsements underscore the divide. On Tuesday, conservative activist Paul Weyrich, another influential religious-right leader, said he backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination. But Mr. Weyrich made it clear his motivation is to keep the nomination from going to Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Romney faces opposition from some Christian conservatives wary of his Mormon faith. But that didn’t stop Bob Jones III, head of the evangelical Bob Jones University in South Carolina, from endorsing Mr. Romney in October.

This election is forcing the evangelical community to decide whether it is more important to choose a candidate who shares their views or someone who can beat Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

Mr. Robertson’s endorsement of Mr. Giuliani — the first major evangelical conservative leader figure to back the former New York mayor — caught other candidates off guard. Mr. McCain, at a news conference in Iowa, said, “Every once in a while, I’m left speechless. This is one of those times.” His remarks came as he was picking up the endorsement of Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a prominent conservative Christian who dropped out of the race. Messrs. Robertson and Brownback are known for their uncompromising views opposing abortion rights.

“To me, the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists,” Mr. Robertson said in Washington, where he appeared with Mr. Giuliani, who has made his experience as New York mayor during the 9/11 terrorist attacks the foundation of his presidential campaign.

“Many of these leaders don’t really have a clear-cut choice,” said John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and expert in the religious right. “They reflect the same divisions among Christian conservatives and the general Republican electorate.”

Other influential conservative leaders, including James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, have declined to pick a candidate but he has made it clear he opposes a Giuliani nomination. In an online column in May, Mr. Dobson said backing an abortion-rights supporter like Mr. Giuliani would violate “my conscience and my moral convictions.”

His moderate stances on immigration and a cash-strapped campaign have worked against Mr. Huckabee — a Baptist minister with a record against gay marriage and abortion — with conservative activists. Questions about electability might explain why Mr. Thompson, who is positioning himself as the only true conservative candidate with a 100% voting record against abortion, has yet to receive a significant endorsement from the evangelical community.

Write to Mary Jacoby at mary.jacoby@wsj.com

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