WASHINGTON Rudy Giuliani tried to find peace with a restless bloc of the Republican Party Saturday, telling religious conservatives not to fear him for his stand on issues such as abortion or expect he would change purely for political advantage.
The GOP presidential candidate won praise for simply showing up before an audience that has been casting about for the best social conservative in the Republican field. But two former governors, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, shared the limelight with the former New York mayor, handily winning the top two spots in a straw poll of "values voters" conducted by the conservative Family Research Council. Giuliani placed eighth.
Giuliani sought common ground with Christian conservatives by casting himself as an imperfect man who has asked for guidance through prayer. He recalled crossing himself during his first day of law school after 16 years of attending Catholic schools.
He offered assurances that despite his support for abortion rights, he would seek to lower the number of abortions. He pledged that if elected, he would appoint conservative judges, support school choice and insist on victory in Iraq all issues important to the audience at the Values Voter Summit.
In a 40-minute speech that drew respectful applause, Giuliani invoked, as he often does, Ronald Reagan's admonition that "my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy."
"My belief in God and reliance on his guidance is at the core of who I am, I can assure you of that," Giuliani said. "But isn't it better for me to tell you what I believe rather than change my positions to fit the prevailing wind?"
It was among his better received lines. Giuliani supports abortion rights and has moderate views on immigration and gay rights. Married three times and distanced from his son and daughter, Giuliani made a rare reference to his personal troubles.
"You and I know that I'm not a perfect person," he said. "I've made mistakes in my life, but I've always done the best that I could to learn from them."
His front-runner status in the crowded GOP 2008 field has dismayed some social conservative leaders. Some even have contemplated supporting a third-party candidate if Giuliani is the Republican nominee.
"People of good conscience reach different conclusions about whether abortions should be legal in certain circumstances," Giuliani said while vowing to increase adoptions.
"We may not always agree," he said. "I don't always agree with myself. But I will give you reason to trust me."
Giuliani did not mention the subject of gay marriage in his remarks. Gary Bauer, a Christian activist and former presidential candidate, said Giuliani should have addressed the issue. But, he added, Giuliani helped himself by offering assurances on other fronts.
Late last month, a group of social conservatives meeting in Salt Lake City agreed to vote for a minor-party candidate if both the Democratic and Republican nominees back abortion rights. There also was talk of launching a third party, but no consensus emerged.
Bauer said Saturday that creating a third party would be the equivalent of "political suicide." Those still interested in a third party met privately again Saturday in Washington, but the gathering was sparsely attended, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting.
Some at the conference said Giuliani had helped himself by giving reason for social conservatives to vote for him in a general election even though they might not support him in the primaries.
"He comforted a lot of conservatives," said Bob Kilbanks, an anti-abortion Republican and former congressional candidate in Pennsylvania. "It would be against my conscience to vote for him, but I think he would get a lot of conservative votes and he would come as near to protect life without changing his views and values."