THE NOTE: Win One Like the Gipper

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Will the pure Republican please stand up?

Keep your seat, Rudy Giuliani -- three words: Roe v. Wade. Sorry, John McCain -- "no" votes on tax cuts and "yes" on campaign-finance reform are too much tarnish to claim ideological cleanliness. And Fred Thompson, you can stay on your couch -- we wouldn't want to make you expend any actual energy while running for president.

When former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., implied that only he represents the "Republican wing of the Republican Party," it drew a swift and harsh reaction from his rivals. How could this guy -- a blue-state former moderate who ran as a pro-choice candidate for Senate and governor -- be lecturing GOP veterans on what it means to be a Republican?

But the fact that Romney has gotten his campaign to the point where such a comment was even possible speaks volumes about why his rivals fear him. Despite some recent campaign stumbles, his slowing fund-raising (and we'll get a glimpse of his burn rate today), his anemic showing in national polls, and his omnipresent Mormonism, Romney is the candidate with the most conservative buzz going into this week's forum with the Family Research Council -- and he has perhaps the best shot at uniting the dispirited social-conservative base.

The stakes appear highest for McCain, R-Ariz., whose must-win state of New Hampshire is also vital to Romney's chances. McCain jumped on a spat between Romney and Giuliani to inject himself back into the campaign storyline. He said on ABC's "Good Morning America" today that Romney "took very liberal positions" when running for office in 1994 and 2002.

"We're all Republicans that are running, but the fact is we've got to run on our record," McCain said. "And his record when he was in Massachusetts had many positions -- most positions -- [that] are direct contradictions to the ones he has now. This is about being honest with the American people."

McCain's comments over the weekend were "what may be the harshest attack yet in the race for the 2008 Republican nomination," ABC's Bret Hovell reports. "That frustration may have been building for some time. Top McCain aides say that Romney's comments [Friday] rubbed the senator the wrong way, that he was anxious to respond, and that there will be more to come."

Romney's camp has pushed back by labeling McCain desperate, and bringing up McCain-Feingold and his opposition to the early Bush tax cuts. But from Rudy to Mitt to John to Fred, it is a remarkable group of men arguing about who truly embodies conservative values. "The increasingly personal sniping underscores how none of the GOP candidates has a lock on the party's conservative wing -- and how many of them are struggling to do so because their records include significant departures from party orthodoxy," writes Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times.

Giuliani is supposed to be the religious right's worst nightmare, right? Maybe not, columnist Robert Novak writes in the Chicago Sun-Times: Rudy's continued strong showing among churchgoers suggests that leaders of the religious right are "out of touch with rank-and-file churchgoers." Novak writes, "Apart from being the lesser of two evils against Sen. Hillary Clinton, Giuliani seems to be the positive choice of millions of religious Americans."

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