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Conservative Catholics Organize To Sink Rudy

Conservative Catholics Organize To Sink Rudy

The early success of Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid has provoked a groundswell of opposition from disparate forces including conservative Catholics, remnants of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaigns and regional political operatives seeking to break into the Republican firmament.

The opposition is united in its determination to block Giuliani, a supporter of abortion rights and gay rights, from becoming the GOP's standard bearer. But lurking just beneath the surface is another motive for these anti-Giuliani conservatives: cash. The groups hope to benefit from a large constituency of donors willing to write big checks to bring down the former New York City mayor. The donors include backers of Giuliani's competitors as well as ideologues of the right.

The new organizations are relying on two fundraising models, both of which were highly successful in previous attacks. One is the drive in 2005 to force White House counsel Harriet Miers to withdraw her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. That campaign, spearheaded by conservatives opposed to Miers, raised an estimated $2 million. The other is the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign in 2004, which began with a modest budget but ended up raising millions in an effort to destroy John Kerry's reputation as a war hero.

One of the anti-Rudy groups is The Conservative Declaration. Based in Michigan, the group claims backers in over 30 states, many with ties to the hard-right. The group is led by former Buchanan supporters and Christian Coalition activists.

Paul Nagy, the group's top-gun in New Hampshire, believes nominating Giuliani would be disastrous for the American conservative movement. Along with other activists, Nagy signed a letter seeking additional signatories to the anti-Rudy declaration. The letter states: "Rudy Giuliani is an unacceptable Republican nominee for President of the United States. He is pro-abortion, pro-partial birth abortion, pro-registration of handguns, and pro-homosexual rights. He is the most liberal Republican candidate for President in our nation's history."

In its campaign to thwart Giuliani, The Conservative Declaration is joined by a recently-established group named Fidelis, a Chelsea, Michigan-based organization with the goal of becoming the preeminent Catholic political operation within Republican ranks. (Data based on exit poll surveys in 2002, 2004 and 2006 suggest that about 20 percent of Republican primary voters are Catholic.) Fidelis was founded by Joseph Cella, who in 2004 founded the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, an event regularly attended by President Bush. Federal Election Commission and IRS reports filed by the Fidelis PAC and the Fidelis Media Fund, two political arms of Fidelis, reveal the group raised only $22,386 in the 2005-2006 election cycle.

But Fidelis organized anti-Giuliani protests in April at the Republican debate in Columbia, South Carolina, and the group intends to be a constant presence at Giuliani events from now on. Cella, who is eager for publicity, contends that "using new media strategies and tactics, we can mobilize hundreds of thousands of people against an unacceptable nominee, or candidate in this case, and have a very powerful impact with a relatively small financial investment."

The anti-Giuliani group with the least visibility - but substantial ambition -- is run by Steve Dillard, a Catholic activist in Macon, Georgia. Dillard, a former law clerk to conservative Judge Daniel A. Manion of the Seventh Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, in 2002 created Southern Appeal, a conservative legal blog. He is currently launching a web site, Catholics Against Rudy, with the goal of becoming an integral part of the Catholic blogosphere, consisting of more than 1,000 web sites accessible at www.catholicblogs.com. A search for "Giuliani" on catholicblogs.com suggests that Dillard may have a ready audience: the overwhelming majority of posts are from people who share Dillard's belief that "a faithful Catholic cannot in good faith vote for Rudy Giuliani."

For now, the Giuliani campaign has adopted the same posture towards these adversaries that John Kerry initially did toward the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth: no comment. The Swift Boat vets began on a shoe string, but by the end of 2004 had raised and spent $17 million. Giuliani no doubt hopes the Swifties will be a tough act to follow.

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