Christian Right Split Over GOP

Religious conservative leaders are in disarray over the 2008 Republican field as deep divisions contribute to an unusually wide-open GOP race for the presidential nomination.

Faced with a Mormon from Massachusetts, a twice-divorced former New York mayor who backs abortion and gay rights, a senator who once called Robertson and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell the "forces of evil" and a Hollywood actor who rarely goes to church, the once powerful coalition of Christian conservative leaders appears to be splintering.

Just this week, three prominent Christian conservatives announced their support for different candidates.

Paul Weyrich, builder of the Moral Majority group, said he would back former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, while Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a former presidential candidate, endorsed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., today.

Perhaps most striking, however, is Robertson's decision to support former Mayor New York Rudolph Giuliani, a moderate on social issues who supports abortion rights.

In endorsing Giuliani, Robertson appears to be making a political calculation that Republicans need to emphasize national security and combating terrorism if they're going to keep the White House in 2008.

"To me the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists," said Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition and Regent University who ran for president in 1988.

"It is my pleasure to announce my support for 'America's Mayor,' Rudy Giuliani, a proven leader who is not afraid of what lies ahead and who will cast a hopeful vision for all Americans," Robertson said.

Evangelical Leaders Split Decision

The Robertson endorsement came as a shock to one of Giuliani's presidential rivals.

"I am surprised," said former Tennessee senator and nomination hopeful Fred Thompson. "But I guess it's because I am easily surprised," he added.

Romney said the endorsement wouldn't help Giuliani win the backing of social conservatives.

"I don't think the Republican Party will choose a pro-choice, pro-gay civil union candidate to lead our party," he said.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, said the endorsements are further evidence that some of these conservative evangelical leaders "are more intoxicated with power than principle," he said.

"Frankly, it's a little disturbing, if not frightening, that some have forgotten the essence of what Jesus taught, and that is if you gain the whole world but lose your soul what does it profit you?" he said.

Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who managed Bob Dole's 1996 campaign, said the endorsement raises questions about Robertson's commitment to the issues he has long talked about — and about Giuliani's shifting rhetoric on social issues.

"It really looks like pandering on both fronts," Reed said. "Robertson is trying to become relevant again."

But other Republican strategists say the biggest loser out of the Robertson-Giuliani endorsement is Romney.

"It's a big blow to Romney ... Romney has really given a hard push to secure himself at the top of the values voters list," former White House spokesman Trent Duffy said on Politics Live on ABC News' digital channel.

Robertson's backing may give evangelicals the cover they need to vote for Giuliani, who is seen as a viable challenger to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Duffy said.

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