Presidential hopeful Fred Thompson cast himself Monday as the consistent Republican conservative in the race and suggested during a speech on Rudy Giuliani’s home turf that the former New York mayor was a liberal.
“Some think the way to beat the Democrats next year is to be more like them. I could not disagree more,” Thompson told the Conservative Party of New York.
“My friends, I suggest it’s not time for psychological flexibilities in terms of our principles. That’s the surefire way of making sure we don’t win,” he added.
The former Tennessee senator didn’t mention Giuliani, but was trying to draw a contrast with the opponent who leads in national Republican polls. Unlike Thompson, Giuliani supports abortion and gay rights. Giuliani also was once a Democrat. And, the ex-mayor’s central argument for Republicans to nominate him is that he has the best chance of winning in November 2008.
Thompson was more direct in an interview on Fox News Channel before the speech.
“I don’t think that the mayor has ever claimed to be a conservative,” he said, then rattled off Giuliani’s history.
He noted that Giuliani sought and won the Liberal Party’s endorsement in his first mayoral race in 1989, and that as a Republican mayor, he endorsed Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo in an unsuccessful race for a fourth term.
“So I don’t know that he’s ever claimed to be anything else,” Thompson said, implying that Giuliani was more a liberal than a conservative.
In response, Giuliani spokeswoman Katie Levinson said: “Fred Thompson can talk about labels all he wants, but labels are meaningless without results. Mayor Giuliani has done more than just talk like a conservative, he’s governed like one and has the record to prove it.”
Earlier in the day, Giuliani’s campaign arranged for several deputy mayors who served him as mayor to hold a news conference in Times Square to promote his success in reducing crime, overhauling welfare and cutting taxes — and subtly contrast him with Thompson.
“Some candidates talk the talk about Republican principles. Others actually have a proven track record of governing according to Republican principles,” said Randy Mastro, a deputy mayor in Giuliani’s first term.
During the speech, Thompson touted his eight-year Senate tenure and boasted of working to further the conservative causes of smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation and conservative judges.
In fact, while he was seen as a reliably conservative vote in the Senate, he sometimes strayed from the party line and focused more on investigating than legislating.
“I was conservative yesterday, I’m a conservative today and I will be a conservative tomorrow,” Thompson said.
With voting beginning in under three months, Thompson is trying to win the support of conservatives who are pivotal in GOP primaries.
The Conservative Party invited Thompson to speak at its fall gathering instead of Giuliani. While the party’s chairman Michael Long has said the invitation wasn’t intended to slight anyone, he has pointed out that the party has clashed with Giuliani on some issues.
Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti in Washington contributed to this report.