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Romney Surrogate Pushes Anti-Rudy, Anti-Huckabee Messages

DUBUQUE, Iowa -- At a gathering of the Iowa Christian Alliance here last night, James Bopp Jr., a leading social conservative activist and supporter of Mitt Romney's presidential bid, said that a vote for any candidate other than Romney in next month's Iowa caucuses was a de facto vote for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Either a conservative is going to emerge" with the financial and organizational power to take on Giuliani, predicted Bopp, or "Giuliani is going to be the nominee."

Bopp's rhetoric was aimed not just at Giuliani but also at former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who has made up considerable ground on Romney in recent week here in the Hawkeye State. "I love Mike Huckabee," Bopp said, quickly adding: "Something I know for sure [is] he does not have the resources to compete." Boiled down, Bopp's argument is simple: You might like Huckabee best but he can't win. So, vote for the guy -- Romney -- you like second best.

The call to practical thinking represents a major break with the past approach of social conservatives when it comes to picking a candidate. In cycles past many social conservatives threw their support behind candidates like Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer and even Rev. Pat Robertson -- none of whom were seen as top tier contenders or were able to compete with those "A" list candidates financially.

Bopp's argument seems to suggest that times are changing. Romney's past positions on abortion and gay rights are clearly not in keeping with the base of the party but he has now brought himself into line with those views as he pursues the presidency. Giuliani has not -- making the strategic calculation that being seen as a flip-flopper is more detrimental to his chances at the nomination than being pro-abortion rights. (He's also managed to win the support of some leading social conservatives including Robertson himself.)

In his own remarks at the event last evening, Romney shied away from mentioning either Huckabee or Giuliani by name, choosing instead to deliver his standard stump speech with a special focus on the importance of preserving America's culture. "Culture makes all the difference," Romney said, adding that he was "pro-life and pro-family" -- an assertion that was interrupted by applause from the assembled attendees.

On a less serious but no less consequential note, Romney received the endorsement of Santa Claus at the event. Mr. Claus -- or at least someone dressed as him -- commandeered the microphone from Romney and said: "Santa Claus is endorsing you for the presidency of the United States." Romney's gift from Santa? A pair of mittens. Mittens for Mitt. Get it?

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 1, 2007; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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