WASHINGTON Televangelist Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, endorsed Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday.
"It is my pleasure to announce my support for America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani, a proven leader who is not afraid of what lies ahead and who will cast a hopeful vision for all Americans," Robertson said during a news conference with Giuliani in Washington.
The former New York mayor backs abortion rights and gay rights, positions that put him in conflict with conservative GOP orthodoxy, and he has been trying to persuade evangelical conservatives like Robertson to overlook their differences on those issues.
Evangelicals have split in their support for the leading Republican candidates. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a favorite of Christian conservatives and who dropped out of the race last month, endorsed fellow Sen. John McCain of Arizona on Wednesday. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney recently announced that Paul Weyrich and Bob Jones III were on board with his candidacy.
Romney on Wednesday dismissed Robertson's endorsement, according to the online political publication Politico. He told reporters at a Hilton Head, S.C., campaign stop that it would not help ease concerns that some conservatives have about Giuliani.
"Not at all," Romney said. "I don't think that the Republican Party is going to choose a pro-choice, pro-gay civil union candidate to lead our party."
Romney added that he thinks "in order to win the White House, we have to bring together the coalition of conservatives that won the White House for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
"And that's social, economic and foreign-policy conservatives. And that's why I think that others who are running in this race, myself included, have a better shot at getting the White House."
Asked about the Robertson endorsement, McCain, at a news conference with Brownback in Dubuque, Iowa, said: "Every once in a while, I'm left speechless. This is one of those times."
Giuliani is best known to voters for leading New York in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Shortly after 9/11, Robertson released a statement in which he said the attacks occurred because Americans had insulted God and lost the protection of heaven by allowing abortion and "rampant Internet pornography."
According to a Gannett News Service analyst, some portray the endorsement as Robertson jumping aboard the only GOP train he thinks is capable of derailing New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democrats' front-runner.
Others think Robertson's endorsement could open Giuliani up to more attacks from GOP candidates eager to challenge him on social issues in upcoming debates, Gannett said.
And still others think the endorsement could haunt Giuliani, Gannett said, should he get the nomination, by giving Democrats an easy target to attack his perceived social moderation.
Robertson made no mention of his differences with Giuliani on social issues in Wednesday's statement.
"Rudy Giuliani took a city that was in decline and considered ungovernable and reduced its violent crime, revitalized its core, dramatically lowered its taxes, cut through a welter of bureaucratic regulations, and did so in the spirit of bipartisanship, which is so urgently needed in Washington today," Robertson said.
Robertson, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 1988, founded the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Christian Coalition and Regent University in Virginia Beach.
Also Wednesday, Giuliani said he asked two GOP friends in Congress, Rep. Peter King of New York and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, to introduce bills to keep states from giving licenses or similar identification to illegal immigrants.The Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, was criticized after a televised debate last week when she hedged an answer on whether she supported New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's effort to grant licenses to illegal immigrants. Her aides say she generally supports the idea in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.
Contributing: Associated Press Writer Amy Lorentzen, Lisa Riley Roche of the Deseret Morning News and Chuck Raasch of Gannett News Service.