LaGRANGE, Ga. - You wouldn't expect the Rev. Mike Reeves to like Rudolph Giuliani much.
The conservative Baptist preacher from a city near the Alabama border is adamantly against abortion and gay marriage. Nonetheless, if he had to choose from the current Republican presidential candidates, the Rev. Reeves would pick the thrice-married mayor of liberal New York City, who supports both abortion and gay rights.
"He's strong," the Rev. Reeves said as he dug into a plate of biscuits and gravy at the International House of Pancakes. "I think we need a president who's going to look our enemies in the eye and say, 'No more' and they'll know he means it."
Mr. Giuliani's emergence as a Republican front-runner in the crowded race for the White House has been dogged by questions about whether he can win over conservative Christian voters in the South, the bedrock of his party's national support. The Rev. Reeves offers a glimpse of hope. But there are plenty of others who are a lot more skeptical.
So, expect to see a lot more of Mr. Giuliani in Dixie.
Already, he has been spending time in South Carolina, the earliest primary state in the South. His latest swing through the South took him to Alabama on Tuesday, where he addressed a joint session of the state Legislature. Today he'll touch down in Atlanta, where he will visit the USO, meet privately with Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and scoop up donations at a glitzy fundraiser thrown by Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot.
Mr. Marcus supported former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed's failed bid last year to become Georgia's lieutenant governor and could be instrumental to Mr. Giuliani's Southern strategy by helping pave the way with some of the state's influential conservatives.
"I will do anything I can to help him," Mr. Marcus said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"He is unlike most political candidates in that he doesn't say what everybody wants to hear," Mr. Marcus said. "I think people will connect to that kind of candor."
Emory University political scientist Merle Black, author of the new book Divided America, which examines deepening regional divisions in politics, said Mr. Giuliani might split the South with other GOP candidates during the primaries. But if he becomes the Republican nominee, he would almost certainly win the Southern states that President Bush did.
"Any Democrat in the field today would have far more issues carrying the South than he would," Mr. Black said.
Still, Mr. Giuliani will have his work cut out for him as he tries to woo Southern conservatives. Some conservative Christians say they simply don't see themselves voting for someone whose views on social issues are so far from their own.
Nationally, Mr. Giuliani draws 37 percent of the white evangelical vote, according to a recent AP-Ipsos poll, more than any other Republican candidate.
- Associated Press