WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani on Wednesday received the endorsement of televangelist Pat Robertson, who said the former New York mayor's promises to appoint conservative judges and protect Americans "from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists" should trump conservatives' concerns about Giuliani's support of abortion rights.
Robertson's endorsement of Giuliani came one day after another prominent social conservative, Paul M. Weyrich, endorsed rival presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a social conservative who ended his own presidential bid earlier this fall, said Wednesday that he would back his Senate colleague John McCain of Arizona.
Taken together, the endorsements suggested that abortion may not prove to be a top-tier issue in the wide-open Republican race, and that top evangelical figures would divide their support among multiple contenders. Social conservatives have demonstrated a willingness to eschew longtime abortion opponents such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee to back candidates who either favor abortion rights, as Giuliani does, or who are recent converts to the antiabortion cause, as is Romney.
Robertson said national security and concerns about federal spending should be top priorities. "To me, the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists," he said. "Our second goal should be the control of massive government waste and crushing federal deficits."
Giuliani, appearing with Robertson at the National Press Club, said: "His confidence in me means a lot. His experience and advice will be a great asset to me and my campaign."
Asked about Robertson's endorsement, Romney, who was campaigning in South Carolina, touted the support of other social conservatives, including Bob Jones III, former president of the Christian conservative Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.
"I can't get all the social conservatives to endorse my candidacy," he told reporters. "I'm really pleased with the support I've got."
Both Giuliani and Romney had aggressively sought Robertson's backing, with phone calls and appearances at Regent University, an evangelical Christian institution in Virginia Beach, Va., founded by Robertson in 1978. Robertson had leaned in Giuliani's direction since the former mayor's Regent speech, telling his Christian Broadcasting Network that Giuliani had been "a smash."
The two men said they had become friends when they traveled together to Israel a few years ago. Aides suggested that Theodore B. Olson, a former solicitor general in the Bush administration and a leading conservative legal figure, had made the endorsement happen.
Olson is an advisor to Giuliani's campaign, and he introduced Robertson at a news conference called Wednesday morning in Washington to announce the endorsement.
In appealing to social conservatives, Giuliani has made a pledge -- one of his campaign's "12 commitments" -- to appoint "strict constructionist" judges who claim to interpret the Constitution in the manner that its framers intended.
Robertson indicated Wednesday he had been won over by this pledge. Giuliani, Robertson said, "understands the need for a conservative judiciary, and with the help of the distinguished Ted Olson, who is here today, and other members of his team, has assured the American people that his choices for judicial appointments will be men and women who share the judicial philosophy of [Chief Justice] John Roberts and [Justice] Antonin Scalia."
Robertson ran for president in 1988 and remains a key figure in the conservative movement, in part through his television network. But his influence has been diminished somewhat by the rise of younger leaders and his reputation for making comments that draw widespread ridicule.
In recent years, he has called then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke a form of divine punishment for "dividing God's land," and has called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He later apologized for the Chavez comment.