WASHINGTON ­- Rudy Giuliani made an intensely personal appeal to social conservatives gathered here Saturday morning, telling them their common values are stronger than their differences with him and assuring them, “You have absolutely nothing to fear from me.”

He also acknowledged to the group: “You and I know that I’m not a perfect person, I’ve made mistakes in my life, but I’ve always done the best that I could to learn from them.”

But a straw poll of religious conservative voters taken as part of the meeting showed just how tough it will be for Giuliani to win over this critical part of the Republican base ­- he finished in a distant eighth place out of nine candidates, with less than 2 percent of the vote.

Giuliani did not specifically mention his differences with this gathering of “values voters” over his support for abortion rights and gay rights, or back off from his support of a woman’s legal right to choose an abortion. But he asked the group to hear him with an “open mind and an open heart” and respect him for not trying to change his mind simply to win their votes.

“Isn’t it better that I tell you what I really believe, instead of pretending to change all of my positions?” Giuliani said. “I believe trust is more important than 100 percent agreement. . . .I’m not going to pretend to you I can be all things to all people, I’m just not like that.”

Those comments also amounted to a thinly veiled shot at Mitt Romney, who has had trouble connecting with some voters here because of changes in his position on abortion. Giuliani said instead he would always be “honest” with these voters about their differences.

It was a high-stakes appearance for Giuliani, whom many in the crowd regard with deep distrust over his longstanding embrace of moderate stances on abortion and immigration, along with his previous marital difficulties. The prospect of him winning the GOP nomination has even prompted talk of a conservative third-party candidate. Also, the Family Research Council will announce the results of a straw poll at 3 p.m. Sunday that will show just how difficult it will be for Giuliani to win over these voters as he seeks the Republican nomination.

But even the group’s leaders said Giuliani probably helped his cause just by showing up, and his speech won appeared to help even more than that, interrupted several times by applause as he touched on his areas of common agreement with the group, including on the war on terror.

In some of his most personal language yet on the presidential campaign trail, Giuliani acknowledged that he doesn’t often talk of his Catholic faith, in part because of an upbringing where such matters were usually discussed in private, not in public. “But my belief in God, and my reliance on His guidance, is at the core of who I am,” Giuliani said.

He also emphasized his Catholic-school upbringing, reminding the audience that he once considered joining the priesthood – “I know that’s hard to believe,” he joked.

Giuliani and Romney have stepped up their sparring in recent weeks as they compete for Republican primary voters, and Giuliani used his speech to contrast his willingness to hold unpopular positions with what he suggested was Romney’s willingness to say what people wanted to hear.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden hit back, saying of Giuliani, “Anytime a candidate’s core message is “don’t be afraid of me,’ it means that there is, in fact, something there that is worth worrying about. Mayor Giuliani knows he’s wrong on important issues like immigration, abortion and spending.”

The straw poll of more than 5,700 voters showed a near-tie for first place between Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, with Romney at 1,595 votes to Huckabee’s 1,565. Ron Paul came in third place and former Sen. Fred Thompson came in fourth place. Huckabee was the clear favorite of people who voted on site during the conference, while the ability to vote on-line outside the conference appeared to favor Romney.

Giuliani finished one spot above last place, with 107 votes, or 1.85 percent. He received just 60 votes out of 952 votes cast on-site. John McCain was in last place with 81 votes.

On a more specific note, Giuliani also Friday laid out a point-by-point plan to reduce the number of abortions in America, saying he would fight any expansion of public funding of abortions, keep in place a $10,000 tax credit for adoptions and support any “reasonable suggestion” designed to reduce the number of abortions.

He also told the crowd he supports a ban on so-called partial birth abortions – though as recently as his 2000 Senate race, he opposed the legislation at the time to ban to procedure.

(c) 2007, Newsday.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-20-07 1918EDT

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