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Why Giuliani and McCain Are the Clear Frontrunners

By Mark Davis

I was watching John McCain on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning, and something came over me for the first time: a willingness to entertain him as the Republican nominee for President in 2008.

I might prefer other candidates along the way. George Allen and Sam Brownback could wind up duking it out for the Reagan base. Mitt Romney will get deserved attention, and a Newt Gingrich candidacy does not draw as much skepticism as it used to.

But if Rudy Giuliani can top a Pew Research Center poll as he did last week, and if his numbers and McCain's can reach 45 percent when no single candidate can crack 25, that says GOP voters are laser-locked on the war views of the candidates (Condoleezza Rice at 21 was the only other name topping 9 percent), and less compelled by the "God, guns and gays" issues which have lifted some recent candidacies and destroyed others.

This is a good thing. Not that conservative voters should stop caring about past core issues, but some of the topics that have taken up an enormous amount of breath and time at GOP conventions of late are things that just don't have a lot to do with the presidency.

Gun control fills the plates of mayors and sometimes governors. I don't for a minute think a President Giuliani is coming to get my gun.

Gay marriage is steeped in the judiciary. We don't have to have a chief executive who lives and breathes this issue -- we surely don't have one now. We need judges who will give states the freedom to set their own gay marriage laws, the only status quo that honors the Constitution. Even a "moderate" GOP candidate can grasp that as he makes judicial appointments.

And as for religious issues, we seem to be finally arriving at an understanding that government may acknowledge the vital role of faith in our nation's history and traditions, but may not act in ways that compel citizens toward-- or away from-- any religious thought or behavior. I'm ready for such matters to be left to the individual and left out of campaign ads.

The bottom line: it used to be a given that candidates deemed too liberal on some social issues could not compete for the Republican nomination.

9/11 truly did change everything. Now they can, if their war credentials are strong enough. And in McCain and Giuliani, the GOP may have its most able aspirants by far in the race to see who gets the reins in the war on terror in January 2009.

Mark Davis is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show is heard weekdays nationwide on the ABC Radio Network. His e-mail address is mdavis@wbap.com.

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