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Giuliani tells evangelicals he offers 'nothing to fear'

Defends stance on abortion in shot at Romney

WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani yesterday told an audience of more than 2,000 evangelicals that "you have absolutely nothing to fear from me" and urged them to look beyond the differences he has with them, including his support for abortion rights. "People of good conscience reach different conclusions about whether abortions should be legal in certain circumstances," Giuliani told the Values Voters Summit.

In defending his position, he took a thinly veiled shot at rival Mitt Romney, who once supported abortion rights but is running for president on a strict antiabortion platform. "Isn't it better for me to tell you what I really believe, instead of pretending to change all of my positions to fit the prevailing winds?" Giuliani said. "I believe trust is more important than 100 percent agreement."

While Giuliani did not name Romney, his statement follows an increasingly bitter feud between the two campaigns, with Giuliani's spokeswoman issuing a statement on Friday night that detailed Romney's former support for abortion rights and accusing the former Massachusetts governor of being a "candidate of convenience."

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained minister who is running fifth in national polls and whose views are more in sync with the evangelicals, also addressed the gathering yesterday and received loud applause. He vowed to end "the holocaust of legalized abortion."

The sponsors of the event announced the results of a straw poll designed to show which candidate has the most support among evangelical activists, but the vote was immediately engulfed in controversy. Romney narrowly beat Huckabee in the poll, but questions were raised about the validity because the sponsors allowed anyone worldwide to vote online for $1. The Romney campaign learned about that capability and last week urged supporters to vote online. Similarly, supporters of Ron Paul voted online in large enough numbers to give their candidate a third place finish.

Following the controversy, organizers separately released results of the voting that took place on-site - less than one-fifth of the total - which showed that Huckabee beat Romney by a 5-to-1 margin. Tony Perkins, who runs the Family Research Council Action, which sponsored the poll, sought to diffuse the controversy at a sometimes-contentious press conference, saying that the combination of the online and on-site polls would give Huckabee a bounce and help Romney demonstrate that he has support among Christian conservatives.

Giuliani, who received 60 of the 952 votes cast on-site, coming in fifth, could gain from the dissatisfaction among evangelicals about the top candidates in the field. A split among evangelicals could serve to help Giuliani in the primary. But he would need the bulk of evangelical support if he is the general election candidate.

"We may not always agree," he said. "I don't always agree with myself. But I will give you reason to trust me."

Giuliani, a thrice-married Catholic, has spoken little about his faith compared with other Republican candidates.

Giuliani sought to explain his lack of public emphasis on religion by saying that "I don't easily publicly proclaim myself as the best example of faith, possibly because I grew up in an environment where faith was considered, if not private, at least separate from political life."

But he sought to reassure the evangelicals yesterday about his background, saying, "My belief in God and reliance on his guidance is at the core of who I am, I can assure you of that."

The event was cosponsored by an arm of Focus on the Family, a group run by the influential James Dobson, who has said he could not vote for Giuliani, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, or Senator John McCain of Arizona. Dobson has said he might back a third-party candidate if Republicans nominate a candidate who supports abortion rights.

Evangelicals make up an estimated 25 percent of the electorate. A recent poll conducted by CBS News of white evangelical Republican primary voters - a broader, scientific sampling of the electorate - found that Thompson led with 29 percent, followed by Giuliani with 26 percent, McCain with 15 percent, Romney with 7 percent, and Huckabee with 6 percent.

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