When is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination not really the front-runner?

When he is a liberal who in the past has supported abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.

When he has been divorced twice.

When he is not a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant.

When his name is Rudy Giuliani.

Let’s look at the facts. All current public opinion polls show Giuliani in first place for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. A Zogby poll, conducted Feb. 22-24, shows the following: Giuliani – 29 percent; Sen. John McCain – 20 percent; and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – 9 percent.

A Cook Political Report/RT Strategies poll, conducted Feb. 15-18, shows similar results: Giuliani – 32 percent; McCain – 23 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – 13 percent.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll, completed Feb. 22-25, showed the following: Giuliani – 44 percent; McCain – 21 percent; Gingrich – 15 percent.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, has great name recognition from his leadership following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but rank and file Republicans know very little about him. Once they find out more, it is very unlikely that they will support him.

According to the highly respected political observer Charlie Cook, “Gallup polling shows that three-quarters of Republicans do not know his (liberal) positions on social and cultural issues….Such findings prompt most GOP insiders and independent experts to discount the former mayor’s lead in the early polls.”

There has never been a twice-divorced person elected president of the United States. In fact, a single divorce was a showstopper for Republicans until Ronald Reagan came on the scene. The religious right might forgive one divorce, but probably not two, especially given that the divorce was rather messy and children were involved. This issue will haunt Giuliani as he prospects for the votes of cultural conservatives.

And then there is the "WASP" issue. Giuliani is white but fails the other two parts of this equation.

The Democratic Party has nominated three Roman Catholics for president – Al Smith in 1928, John Kennedy in 1960 and John Kerry in 2004, and one Greek Orthodox – Michael Dukakis in 1988. Only one (Kennedy) was actually elected president.

The Republican Party has never nominated a non-WASP for president in its 150 years of existence. Certainly, even the Republicans eventually will join the modern world and drop this standard. However, it is unlikely that their first non-WASP nominee will be a liberal and someone with multiple divorces.

So what does all this mean?

First, someone like Giuliani could be nominated by the Democratic Party, but not by the GOP…at least not yet. So, the race right now is really for second place in the polls.

McCain clearly is in second place and at this point should be considered the real Republican front-runner. If McCain falls by the wayside, then a new “real” front-runner will emerge. He could be Romney or Sen. Chuck Hagel. It is unlikely that Gingrich, who has also been divorced twice and is a polarizing figure, will ever become the de facto front-runner.

It is possible that the Republicans could turn to Giuliani if their situation in 2008 appears totally hopeless and they need to throw a “hail Mary” pass in order to have a chance to win. Don’t count on it. Under those circumstances, it would mean that the religious right and the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party that currently dominates the GOP party structure would have to hold their collectives noses and hope for a battlefield conversion to their cause by the nominee.

I have nothing against Rudy Giuliani. I just wish he were running for president as a Democrat. He might have a chance to be nominated and a chance to win.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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