This (slightly) reshaped Republican race sure is getting fun, isn't it? It figures to be a rough day for former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y. (not even factoring in the end of the Torre era at Yankee Stadium): Rudy's rivals are ready to pounce on the unlikely GOP frontrunner, in front of a crowd that's hardly inclined to defend the former mayor.
Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is preparing the sharpest series of lines for the "Values Voters Summit," as he makes a play to win the conference straw poll. "We're not going to beat Hillary Clinton by acting like Hillary Clinton," he plans to say in his speech tonight, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. The line will be "interpreted as aimed at the former New York mayor, who has a liberal history on many social issues such as abortion and immigration," Tapper writes.
Add to that a newly aggressive former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., an eager-to-get-back-in-the-fray Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a valediction from Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. (who bids farewell to the race this afternoon), and the 2,300-strong crowd will be prepped to face down evil itself by the time Giuliani takes the stage tomorrow.
But when social conservative leaders meet after the speechifying is done, they still appear unlikely to unite behind any Republican candidate. "Today, thousands of Christian conservatives will gather in Washington to confront the fact that none of the candidates has won them over," Michael Shear and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post. The conference "will highlight the uncertainty among activists and the sense of urgency among the candidates."
"Several influential Christian conservative leaders said it was unlikely, even after the conference, that they would be able to coalesce around a single candidate as they had once hoped to do," Michael Luo and Julie Bosman write in The New York Times. "That raises anew the prospect that the movement's ability to shape the outcome of the primaries could be seriously diminished." Says Gary Bauer: "My guess is things will not be that much more clarified at the end of the weekend."
Jill Lawrence writes in USA Today, "Somebody's got to win the presidential straw poll this weekend at a gathering of Christian conservative luminaries and activists. The question is whether it will be 'undecided' or an actual candidate." The buzz on the eve of the conference? "Grumbling, ambivalence and talk of bolting to a third party," Lawrence writes.
Rudy can't love the attacks - - and don't expect an embrace or an assist from the crowd -- but this is very welcome news to Giuliani, who leads comfortably in national polls in spite of views that place him far from social-conservative dogma. His real fear isn't seeing his positions highlighted - - it's one candidate emerging as the champion of a movement that's looking for a leader.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, believes that Giuliani "will have won by showing up, even if most in the room are still unlikely to support him," per the Times' Luo and Bosman. Says Perkins: "He's dehorned by coming," Mr. Perkins said.
Giuliani still looks stronger than he did a few months ago, despite widespread predictions of his demise. All the attention he's getting makes Giuliani ABC's "Buzz Maker of the Week."