THE NOTE: Fred in the Fray


OK, so he flubbed his attack line on Giuliani yesterday, and he's busy touting the endorsement today of a county sheriff in Georgia (yes, a county sheriff, in Georgia). But is Thompson waking up? This is a key stretch for him, and with the values summit followed by another GOP debate Sunday, it's the right moment to start stirring.

Giuliani, R-N.Y., will try to quiet conservative concerns about his candidacy with a speech Saturday, yet the pre-game chatter isn't good for Hizzoner. Think there's anything that can convince people like Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention? On Giuliani's promise to appoint "strict constructionist" judges: "He also promised two previous wives that he would love, honor and cherish them until death do us part," Land tells Bloomberg's Hans Nichols.

Nichols writes, "Still, some evangelical leaders doubt they will be able to make good on the threat to bolt the Republican Party." Says Phyllis Schlafly: "It's not at all clear that the so-called leaders can influence that constituency one way or the other."

As if Giuliani needed any higher stakes for his Saturday speech . . . "Key conservative and religious leaders will continue discussing a mass defection from the Republican Party in a private meeting at a Washington hotel Saturday afternoon, just hours after the pro-choice presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani speaks before thousands of pro-life voters,"'s Michael Sherer reports. Says Howard Phillips, the president of the Conservative Caucus: "There will be some discussion of who would be a viable independent candidate."

Saturday will bring a conference straw poll, and don't expect Rudy to win. But this is encouraging for Giuliani: "Christian conservative leaders are unlikely to drop their differences and throw their collective weight behind a single Republican presidential hopeful by Sunday, as they once hoped," Ralph Z. Hallow writes in the Washington Times. "The heads of several Christian and conservative groups are slated to try to settle on one candidate, but agreed that if no consensus is reached, they will be free to go public with their disunity and support various candidates."

And Giuliani isn't quite Ronald Reagan on another front. ABC's Teddy Davis and Mike Chesney report that, by saying yesterday he would "rule out a tax increase" to shore up Social Security, "the national GOP front-runner retreated from the flexibility the former president used to reach a bipartisan accommodation in 1983." Giuliani's comments seemed designed to assuage previous concerns voiced by the Club for Growth.

Romney, R-Mass., plans to use his speech tomorrow at the values forum to "take aim at the problem of single motherhood," per Michael Levenson of The Boston Globe. (Is anyone getting a Murphy Brown flashback?) "Number one on my list is we have to teach our kids that before they have babies, they should get married," Romney said in Iowa, previewing his message. He mocked Clinton's now-abandoned proposal to give $5,000 to every baby "regardless of whether they have a mom and dad or not." (So should kids with two parents get Mitt bonuses, governor?)

As the Republicans circle around Giuliani, the Democrats are trying new ways to engage Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. -- while keeping a wary eye on their newest rival, Stephen Colbert (how ridiculous is that sentence?)

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