Rudy Giuliani is fast becoming the man to beat for the Republican presidential nomination and he's starting to feel the heat.
The former New York City mayor -- who sits atop the Republican presidential field according to two recent national surveys -- is wrongly labeled as being "pro-gay marriage" by former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., in a Christian Broadcasting Network interview which is set to air March 6 on the "700 Club."
"He is pro-choice, he is pro-gay marriage, and anti-gun," said former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., in an interview taped in Boston on Feb. 28. "That's a tough combination in a Republican primary."
Giuliani is often described as being "pro-gay rights" because he signed a 1997 bill creating domestic-partnership benefits in New York City. He has never, however, been "pro-gay marriage."
Romney Camp Can't Back Up Claim
When contacted by ABC News, the Romney campaign was not able to provide substantiation for the governor's claim that Giuliani is "pro-gay marriage".
"It is sad," a source close to the Giuliani campaign told ABC News, "but unfortunately not surprising, that Mitt Romney's flailing campaign has chosen to misrepresent Rudy's positions. He can't keep his own positions straight let alone Rudy's."
A Romney campaign spokesperson declined to offer a retraction of the former governor's "pro-gay marriage" claim, arguing that Romney is still the more socially conservative candidate because he is running for president as an opponent of the legal recognition of non-marital same-sex unions and because Romney has renounced his past support for abortion rights.
Giuliani discussed his opposition to same-sex marriage and his record on domestic partnership benefits during a Feb. 5 interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity.
"Marriage should be between a man and a woman," Giuliani told the conservative talk show host. "Here's exactly the position I've always had. And it's the same -- and I feel the same way about it today that I did eight, ten years ago when I signed the domestic partnership legislation: marriage should be between a man and a woman. It should remain that way."
Romney offered his distortion of Giuliani's position on same-sex marriage after the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody asked him to react to Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, describing Giuliani as being "far outside the mainstream of conservative thought".
Romney began his answer by saying that he will leave the assessment of Giuliani's political thought up to others, before launching into his description of Giuliani as being "pro-gay marriage."
Republican Race Heats Up
Romney's decision to step up his criticism of Giuliani while continuing his criticism of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is a sign of the changing contours of the Republican presidential race.
A Time magazine poll conducted Feb. 23-26 shows Giuliani 14 percentage points ahead of McCain, 38 percent to 24 percent. Time magazine found former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia running third with 12 percent and Romney in fourth place with 7 percent. In January, McCain led Giuliani by 4 points in Time's poll.
Giuliani was also found improving his poll standing relative to McCain in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted Feb. 22-25.
Giuliani now holds a 2-to-1 advantage over McCain among Republicans, according to the ABC News-Washington Post poll, more than tripling his margin of a month ago. The poll found Giuliani leading with 44 percent to McCain's 21 percent.
Gingrich ran third with 15 percent, while Romney was fourth with 4 percent.
The former House Speaker has not decided if he will enter the race, and without him, Giuliani's lead would increase even more, to 53 percent compared with McCain's 23 percent, according to the ABC News-Washington Post poll.
A Romney campaign spokesperson confirmed to ABC News that until recently the Massachusetts governor has "mostly refrained" from citing specific issue differences with Giuliani, focusing most of his fire on McCain.
Romney began his effort to position himself as the conservative candidate in the Republican presidential field in a September 2006 interview with the New York Times' Adam Nagourney in which he cited differences with the Arizona senator on immigration, campaign finance regulation, and the rules that need to be followed when interrogating suspected terrorists.
In a recent interview with Nightline anchor Terry Moran, Romney alluded to big differences between himself and Giuliani on "social issues."
The former Massachusetts governor added that such differences have a "bigger impact on the primary process" than they do in the general election.
Romney refrained, however, in his ABC News interview, from attempting to articulate specific policy differences with Giuliani calling him a "great friend," a "great leader," and a "great Republican."