'Family values' lower on agenda in 2008 race

Fabrizio says Huckabee is taking a different tack to tap into the same vein: "There's using the term and your family, and there's using your religion, which is the code. Huckabee has used it to his significant benefit in Iowa," such as in an ad that calls him a "Christian leader."

Romney, for his part, has an ad that says he and Huckabee are "good family men" and then attacks Huckabee for backing college aid to children of illegal immigrants. Romney has challenged Giuliani on the latter's messy private life, saying it's not enough to acknowledge mistakes (as Giuliani often does).

"It just drives me nuts" when politicians talk about their personal lives and say "everybody makes mistakes," Romney said recently. When you want to be president, "we expect you to live by a higher standard of conduct."

Earlier, Romney said a president can help instill family values "by having the White House be a place that demonstrates that." Bill Clinton's White House, he said, was not "helpful for our nation's culture."

Vogel, a former adviser to Quayle and former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, suggests Romney's lines of attack may be misguided. The GOP candidates appear to be in "happy, productive marital and family relationships" at this point and "voters aren't that interested in diving that much deeper into personal lives."

As for the general election, "people in both parties frankly got sick of talking about these issues" during the Clinton years, Vogel says. "National security, the economy and America's role in the world are more important to the electorate writ large than what some candidate has done in their personal life."

Contributing: Paul Overberg

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