Some of the nation's most politically influential conservative Christians, alarmed by the prospect of a Republican presidential nominee who supports abortion rights, are considering backing a third-party candidate.
More than 40 Christian conservatives attended a meeting Saturday in Salt Lake City to discuss the possibility, and planned more gatherings on how they should move forward, according to Richard A. Viguerie, a direct-mail specialist and longtime conservative activist.
Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion rights and gay rights, leads in national polls. Campaigning in New Jersey yesterday, he brushed aside talk of an upstart effort by religious conservatives.
"I'm working on one party right now - the Republican Party," Giuliani said. "I believe we are reaching out very, very well to Republicans."
Other participants in the meeting included James Dobson, founder of the Focus on the Family evangelical ministry in Colorado Springs, and, according to Viguerie, Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, a conservative policy group in Washington.
However, Dobson spoke against the idea of a third party even if "both Democratic and Republican nominees are known to be entirely unsupportive of the sanctity of human life, the institution of marriage and other aspects of the promoral agenda," according to Gary Schneeberger, a spokesman for Focus on the Family Action.
A spokesman for Perkins did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
A third-party run would be a long shot. Still, such a bid could prove disastrous for the GOP by splitting the vote.
Dobson has said he wouldn't support Giuliani, calling the former New York mayor an "unapologetic supporter of abortion on demand." Dobson has also rejected former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee as wrong on social issues, and wouldn't back John McCain because of the Arizona senator's opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Viguerie said conservatives "are still open" to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, but said, "we haven't seen anything that guarantees that he will hold to the positions that he's articulating." Romney has been questioned about his record on gay rights.