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Pa. Still Likes GOP, but Looks for Moderation

By Michael Smerconish

Pennsylvania may just have given the Republican Party, and Rudy Giuliani in particular, some desperately needed good news. It came in the form of polling results provided by the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin and Marshall College.

The Keystone Poll found that if Pennsylvania residents decided today among the leading 2008 presidential contenders, either Giuliani or Sen. John McCain would defeat either Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

Giuliani leads Clinton 53 percent to 37 percent, and he leads Obama 52 percent to 32 percent. McCain trumps Clinton 45 percent to 41 percent and Obama 43 percent to 37 percent. Those are startling findings, since 46 percent of Pennsylvania respondents told the pollsters they believed the Republican president was doing a "poor job."

Clearly, suburbanites are prepared to support a Republican presidential candidate who is tough on terrorists but moderate on social issues. Giuliani seems uniquely able to attract a majority of support from politically moderate Pennsylvanians. And it's significant that both Giuliani and McCain lead Clinton and Obama even in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Suburbia will likely be the key in 2008, as it was in 2006. An analysis by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech after the 2006 midterm showed that Democrats carried nearly 60 percent of the U.S. vote for Congress in the inner suburbs of the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas - up from about 53 percent in 2002 (the last midterm) - and nearly 55 percent of the vote in the next ring of "mature" suburbs (ones that have been around for 20 or 30 years). Therein lies a lesson for the GOP in 2008.

Karl Rove's practice of "pumping the base" did not and will not work in Pennsylvania. For every extra voter Rove pulled out of conservative enclaves in central Pennsylvania through wedge-issue rhetoric, the Democrats pulled out an extra vote (or two) in Philadelphia and its nearby suburbs. That's why George W. Bush failed to carry the state in 2000 and 2004.

GOP presidential candidates need to focus on surviving primaries and winning the general election, not vice versa. This will not be the cycle for gay marriage amendments and the semiannual flag-burning ruse. Instead, success lies in issues such as energy independence and suburban smart growth, in addition to the staples of strong national defense and fiscal responsibility.

I asked Giuliani what pressures he faced in trying to appease the primary interests while maintaining his viability for a general election. How do you win South Carolina but keep hold of the Philadelphia suburbs?

"There are many, many places where I agree with voters that you would describe as very conservative, or social conservatives or whatever description you want to give," he said. "We agree very much on the economy, we agree on taxes, we agree on fiscal discipline, we agree on a strong, strong American foreign and American military policy with regard to the terrorists who are planning to come here and kill us, which is the way I look at it... . So there are lots of areas of agreement."

Giuliani then reminded me that he was in favor of marriage remaining between man and woman, but supported some form of domestic partnership or civil unions to protect the rights of same-sex couples. He also spoke of his experience as New York mayor in enforcing the gun laws of the state. That was one of four or five strategies he and then-police commissioner Bill Bratton used to reduce murder from all-time highs to 30-year lows.

The real bridge to conservative voters, Giuliani said, was "the kind of judges I'd appoint" - judges who are "strict constructionists," or, as Justice Antonin Scalia describes them, "originalists." These are "judges who would strive to figure out the meaning of the Constitution, rather than what they would like it to mean."

While the Keystone Poll found that a combined 73 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed said that abortion should be legal under "any" or "certain" circumstances, Republican primary voters are far more pro-life in their views. So I asked Giuliani if he was speaking in code to the pro-life community when using the words strict constructionist.

"It is not code for my knowing if people would overturn [Roe v. Wade] or wouldn't," he said. "It is, rather than code, a description of the kind of philosophy I would look for in a judge. A judge that I would describe as strict constructionist might come to the conclusion that [Roe v. Wade] was incorrectly decided, or a judge like that might come to the conclusion that it has been the law for so long that we can limit it but can't overturn it."

In a word, Giuliani was reasonable. He was a voice of moderation, not extremism, but with conservative bona fides relative to terrorism. No wonder he is leading the pack in Pennsylvania, where 21 percent of respondents said they considered themselves liberal, 41 percent said moderate, and 32 percent said conservative.

These are the people responsible for sending Patrick Murphy to Congress and Bob Casey to the U.S. Senate.

And they just might send Rudy Giuliani, or John McCain, to the White House.

To listen to the Smerconish-Giuliani interview, click here.

For a transcript of the interview, click here.

For the Keystone Poll, click here.

Michael Smerconish is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News and the author of Muzzled. He can be heard weekdays 5:30-9 a.m. on 1210/AM in Philadelphia. Contact him via

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