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Schneider: Can a blue-state Republican win the '08 nod?

By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On Tuesday, Mitt Romney becomes the first of the three leading Republicans to declare he's officially running for president.

The three leading Republicans -- Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney -- have a lot in common. All three are essentially blue state Republicans who know how to win over Democrats and moderates.

That's good, right?

In a general election, it is. But first they have to get through the Republican primaries. (Watch why conservatives are unhappy with the leading GOP candidates Video)

Giuliani was twice elected mayor of New York, the capital of blue-state America, as a supporter of abortion rights, gay rights and gun control. (Ticker: Giuliani, Clinton lead in latest poll of New Hampshire voters)

Now he seems to be modifying his views ever so slightly. Last week, Giuliani told Sean Hannity of Fox News that he would appoint judges to the Supreme Court that were "strict constructionists."

President Bush labeled his last two appointments to the Supreme Court -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito -- as "strict constructionists," and many conservatives believe justices applying a "strict constructionist" reading of the Constitution would overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion.

Some social conservatives aren't buying it. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, a prominent social conservative group, recently said "I think Giuliani is unacceptable from the outset."

Giuliani's response? Let's talk about the war on terror.

"We learned from Ronald Reagan that the way you achieve peace is through strength, not weakness," Giuliani told Fox News' Hannity.

As far as Romney goes, he was governor of Massachusetts, a very blue state.

Recently, letters and debate clips have surfaced showing that Romney supported gay rights and abortion rights in 1994, when he was running against Ted Kennedy.

The Family Research Council's Perkins also has a problem with Romney. "You know, a lot of things coming out about him that are troubling," Perkins said.

Romney's response? I have seen the light -- like other converts.

"On abortion, I wasn't always a Ronald Reagan conservative," Romney said earlier this month at a conservative convention in Washington. "Neither was Ronald Reagan, by the way."

Arizona is not a blue state, but in 2000, McCain won blue-state primaries in New Hampshire and Michigan. He denounced Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as "agents of intolerance.''

McCain's response to conservatives who won't forgive him? He gave the commencement address at Falwell's college. He's hired former Bush campaign staffers.

And he's with President Bush on the biggest issue of all -- Iraq.

"I'm sticking with the president in this respect," McCain told CNN after the State of the Union address in January. "This is our last chance. The consequences of failure are catastrophic.''

It's not odd to see candidates move to the right to seek the Republican nomination. But three of them running for president at the same time? And leading the field?

That's odd.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads in polls of likely Republican primary voters, but his views on abortion and gay rights run afoul of social conservatives.



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