Monday, March 19, 2007

Some conservatives searching for a new Ronald Reagan are rejecting “Rudy McRomney” and seeking an alternative Republican presidential candidate, opening the door to dark-horse hopefuls, including former Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Still reeling from losses in the midterm congressional elections last year, nearly 6 in 10 Republicans said in a recent poll that they want more choices for November 2008.

Many conservatives are displeased with the trio of candidates dominating press coverage of the Republican 2008 field — former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“None of these candidates in the first tier or second tier have done anything that would convict them of being a conservative leader,” said Richard A. Viguerie, author of “Conservatives Betrayed.”

“Conservatives should withhold their support from all of the presidential wannabes at this point in time. Not one of them has provided conservative leadership on issues of importance to us in the last 10 years, so why should we support them at this time?” he said.

The recent gathering at the Conservative Political Action Conference this month gave insight into how conservatives view the Republican presidential field.

In an unscientific poll conducted by Mr. Viguerie’s Web site (, 88 percent of 525 persons surveyed said Mr. Gingrich would govern as a conservative. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas was slightly behind, at 86 percent, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came in at a respectable 74 percent.

The news was worse for “Rudy McRomney.” A little more than half, 55 percent, said Mr. Romney would govern from the right, with Mr. Giuliani at 24 percent and Mr. McCain at the bottom at 17 percent.

Mr. Huckabee told The Washington Times that he considers himself conservative enough and said voters who check his record will be convinced. But he added with a laugh, “Maybe they just don’t know all of us yet.”

Yet many conservatives do know the Arizona senator, a darling of the liberal press in his 2000 presidential bid. Mr. McCain skipped the CPAC event, drawing outrage from conservatives who still hold a grudge over his initial opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts.

Other hopefuls, including Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney, attended the conservative conference, but were greeted with tepid applause.

Mr. Giuliani, who is pro-choice and supports gun control and homosexual rights, sought to placate conservatives by mentioning Mr. Reagan 15 times in his CPAC speech. Meanwhile, Mr. Romney said the word “conservative” 10 times.

Still, the New Yorker won an unscientific presidential straw poll among the activists attending CPAC.

The former Massachusetts governor yesterday told The Times that he is “a conservative Republican,” despite his past support for homosexual “marriage” and abortion rights. Touting his gubernatorial record as “tenets of my conservatism,” Mr. Romney said: “If Americans want that kind of record from their president, then I expect they will believe I am, in fact, conservative enough.”

But conservatives may well turn to one of their own — Mr. Gingrich. At CPAC, he was treated like a rock star, drawing a long standing ovation from more than 1,200 people packed into a ballroom. He posed for hundreds of pictures with fans, many of whom urged him to enter the 2008 race, a decision he said he will not make until October.

As a conservative leader and author of the 1994 Contract with America, Mr. Gingrich has a record of governing from the right. Even Mr. Viguerie acknowledges that “there’s a vacuum that Newt could help fill.”

But Mr. Viguerie is far less supportive of Mr. Thompson, even though during his time in the Senate, he opposed abortion and supported traditional marriage and gun rights.

“Of the top-tier candidates, the top three, Thompson is better than any of them, although he’s not a conservative leader. He comes from the establishment,” Mr. Viguerie said. “He’s certainly better than Giuliani, Romney or McCain, but he’s no Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater.”

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