WASHINGTON -- Rudy Giuliani faced the toughest skeptics in his own party Saturday, telling a crowd of social conservatives leery of his stances on abortion and gay marriage that they have nothing to fear from him.
"My belief in God, my reliance on his guidance is at the core of who I am, I can assure you of that," the GOP frontrunner said in a 40-minute speech aimed at seeking to convince conservative voters that they have more in common with him than the issues that divide them. "Isn't it better that I tell you what I really believe instead of pretending to change all my positions to fit the prevailing winds? I believe trust is more important than 100 percent agreement."
Giuliani, who remains a worry for many conservatives, sought to cast himself as a man of faith -- but one reluctant to talk about it in a political environment. He acknowledged many in the religious right disagreed with his views on some issues, but he appealed for consideration among the politically potent crowd, calling Christianity "all about inclusiveness."
"If we expect perfection from our political leaders," he said, "we're just asking to be disappointed."
The reception for Giuliani's speech was polite -- punctuated several times by applause -- but interviews with voters outside the ballroom suggest many social conservatives remain unwilling to back a candidate at odds with them on abortion.
"Unless you're willing to protect all life, the other issues fall short," said John Jakubczyk, a Phoenix lawyer and past president of Arizona Right to Life.
Giuliani's appearance before the Values Voter Summit came as the conservatives who helped George W. Bush win the White House find themselves in a quandary over which candidate best suits them for 2008. Polls suggest that many evangelical voters have yet to embrace a candidate. Giuliani's support of abortion and gay rights makes many uncomfortable, prompting calls for a third-party candidate if Giuliani becomes the GOP nominee.
Still, several voters suggested that Giuliani's presence at the event and his pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices "in the model" of Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Bush appointees Sam Alito and John Roberts convinced them they could support him as the nominee.
Gary Bauer, a former president of the Family Research Council who has dismissed talk of a third-party candidate as "political suicide," said Giuliani had managed "to remind some folks of things they would agree with him on."
Among those persuaded was Tim Echols, 47, president of TeenPact, a student ministry.
"He had to alleviate some of our fears, he had to show us he wasn't some rabid liberal working for the other side," said the Athens, Ga., man, noting that he prefers former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee but could back Giuliani should Huckabee "peter out."
"When he invoked Alito, Scalia, that's huge," Echols said. "What I heard today encouraged me. I don't think I'm going to go out and start wearing Giuliani buttons, but I think he said enough here today that he's going to keep our people at the table."
Giuliani, though, found himself placing eighth of out nine in a straw pool in which council members said their most important issue was abortion. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney placed first in the poll, followed closely by Huckabee.
The contrast with Giuliani was palpable when Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, took the stage an hour after Giuliani: He drew several standing ovations and whoops of enthusiasm as he urged the crowd not to abandon their values "for expediency or electability."
"I come to you today not as one who comes to you, but as one who comes from you," Huckabee said. "You are my roots."
Huckabee called for strict control of the border and said he backed a fair tax and abolition of the IRS "to stop the muzzling of ministers who are told they can't say things from the pulpit."
The thrice-married Giuliani sought to burnish his religious credentials in his speech, saying he's a product of Catholic schools and had studied religion and theology for 16 years, nearly entering the seminary several times.
"I know that's hard to believe," he said to laughter.