WASHINGTON (AFP) — Several thousand Christian conservative voters rebuffed an olive branch from Republican White House hopeful Rudolph Giuliani Saturday, over his support for abortion rights.
The former New York mayor tops Republican national polls in the quickening 2008 race, but was unable to win over a cross-section of a crucial party voting bloc at a huge "Values Voter" conference in Washington.
In a presidential candidate straw poll of 5,775 evangelical voters at the meeting and online, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney came out on top, narrowly ahead of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
Giuliani trailed in eighth, with just 1.85 percent of the vote, despite earlier telling the conference 10 weeks before the first Republican party nominating contest "you have absolutely nothing to fear from me."
The result highlighted doubts over whether Giuliani, revered as a US hero for his role in steadying New York after the September 11 attacks in 2001, can win the Republican nomination due to his liberal social record.
"I am not going to pretend to you I can be all things to all people," thrice married Giuliani, who also has a record of supporting gay rights, earlier told the conference.
"You know we have some areas of disagreement, but I believe we have many many, more areas of agreement," Giuliani said, in an candid speech.
"The one thing you can count on with me is, I will always be honest with you," said Giuliani, who said he would work to cut the number of abortions and boost adoptions if elected president.
But Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, which organized the conference, said he could not vote for Giuliani, even if he was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate.
"I will not vote for a pro-abortion rights candidate," Perkins said.
Romney, who leads opinion surveys in the key strategic states of Iowa and New Hampshire, won the straw poll with 1,595 votes, 30 ahead of Huckabee, a baptist minister and favorite of social conservatives.
Long-shot Republican libertarian candidate Ron Paul was third with 865 votes and Fred Thompson, the actor and former senator who has tried to step into the role of standard bearer for conservatives came a disappointing fourth.
Though not a scientific survey, the poll highlighted Giuliani's tough task in wooing the "religious right" as it revealed 'values voters' two primary concerns were opposing abortion and same sex marriage.
The poll may also have been susceptible to stacking of online votes by campaigns -- Huckabee won 51 percent of votes of 952 people who voted in person at the conference, and Romney took only 10 percent.
The survey may also help to downplay concerns that Romney may be unacceptable to evangelic voters by virtue of his Mormon religion.
Late Friday, Romney, who leads state polls in early voting states Iowa and New Hampshire, promised the conference he would hold a White House summit on strengthening families and argued Giuliani was not a true conservative.
"We're not going to beat Hillary Clinton by acting like Hillary Clinton," Romney said, referring to the Democratic front-runner despised by many social and religious conservatives.
The run-up to the conference was dominated by reports that grandees of the Christian right are mulling whether to renounce support for any Republican nominee who does not firmly back their crusade to ban abortion.
Such a move would would deprive the party of a key political machine, which helped usher Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush into the White House.
The conference took place as a new CBS News poll confirmed religious conservatives are underwhelmed with their 2008 options.
Fifty-one percent of white evangelical voters surveyed wished there were more choices in the Republican field.
Exit polls in 2004 suggested voters prioritizing "moral issues" may have swung the election to Bush over Democratic challenger John Kerry.
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