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Brownback Endorses McCain, Robertson for Giuliani

McCain and Brownback shaking hands at a GOP debate in October, before Brownback dropped out of the race and offered the Arizona Republican his support. (AP).

Updated: 4:29 p.m.

Today's endorsements by the Rev. Pat Robertson (for Giuliani) and former presidential candidate Sam Brownback (for McCain) offered some hope for those two men that they might yet win the hearts of social conservatives.

But the announcements, coming as they did on the same day, was also a vivid reminder that one of the Republican Party's most crucial constituencies is far from any consensus on who to support in 2008.

Arizona Sen. John McCain -- already riding a bit of a resurgence, with rising poll numbers nationally -- received the Brownback endorsement, giving him a new claim on the religious conservatives that can be so crucial in the Republican nomination contest.

At the same time, Robertson endorsed Giuliani, offering as an explanation the importance of the country's focus on fighting terrorism. Coming from one of the nation's most outspoken preachers, the statement was striking for its lack of religious imagery.

"To me, the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists," Robertson said in his statement.

[His words prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to issue a release urging Giuliani to reject the endorsement by Robertson, who once called protesting Muslims "satanic" and "crazed
fanatics" who were "motivated by demonic power."]

In an interview with Chris Cillizza of Wednesday, Robertson said his endorsement is aimed at religious Republicans who will help to determine the outcome of the GOP contest.

"I thought it was important for me to make it clear that Rudy Giuliani is more than acceptable to people of faith," said Robertson. "Given the fractured nature of the process, I thought it was time to solidify around one candidate."

He insisted that while some on the "fringe" of the social conservative movement may see Giuliani as an unacceptable nominee, the "core know better."

But the current presidential contest may be evidence that there is no tightly-defined core among evangelical voters, at least when it comes to their voting preferences.

Despite efforts by some conservative Christian leaders to come to consensus -- including a threat by some to create a third party if Giuliani becomes the nominee -- there has been no single candidate who appears to be winning the lion's share of support in that community.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee did well at the Values Voters summit in Washington recently, as did former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has claimed endorsements from other evangelical leaders.

Brownback dropped out of the presidential race several weeks ago after failing to catch on in the polls and struggling to raise money. All of the major Republican candidates sought his support. Brownback
appeared with McCain in Iowa today. The endorsement was first reported by the Associated Press.

The Kansas senator had campaigned by trying to appeal to conservative voters with a strongly pro-life message and stressed social issues. But despite campaigning aggressively in Iowa this summer, his campaign never caught on, coming in third in the Ames straw poll in August. He remained mired in the single digits in polls

For McCain, whose relationship with religious conservatives has been strained, the endorsement could prove vital, especially in Iowa, where McCain did not compete during his 2000 bid for the White House.

During that earlier race, McCain angered many social conservatives and Christian voters by angrily calling evangelical preachers Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell the "agents of intolerance" after losing
the South Carolina primary to George W. Bush.

The ill will from those comments has lasted for years, despite the Arizona senator's attempts to reach out. He met with Falwell in 2004, before the preacher's recent death, to publicly make amends. That in
turn cost McCain some of the support he had earned among independents who liked his willingness to criticize an important GOP constituency.

This year, McCain started as the clear front-runner after assembling a well-financed organization that had the support of many establishment Republicans from Bush's successful campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

But he had a disastrous summer after failing to raise the money he needed to sustain the costly enterprise. Many of his key staff resigned, forcing him to campaign on a shoestring for several months.
Even now, McCain's campaign is lagging far behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in financial resources.

But several recent polls have shown him in second place, nationally, behind Giuliani and McCain's campaign has begun running television ads in New Hampshire, a crucial state where he beat Bush in 2000.

Whether Brownback's endorsement will translate into broader support for McCain is uncertain. But the campaign is clearly hoping that it will help solidify some of the gains he has made in recent weeks.

--Michael D. Shear

By Post Editor  |  November 7, 2007; 4:29 PM ET
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