NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A Southern Baptist leader said Tuesday that evangelical voters might tolerate a divorced presidential candidate, but they have deep doubts about GOP hopeful Rudy Giuliani, who has been married three times.
Richard Land, head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, told The Associated Press that evangelicals believe the former New York City mayor showed a lack of character during his divorce from second wife, television personality Donna Hanover.
"I mean, this is divorce on steroids," Land said. "To publicly humiliate your wife in that way, and your children. That's rough. I think that's going to be an awfully hard sell, even if he weren't pro-choice and pro-gun control."
Giuliani married his longtime companion, Judith Nathan, in 2003. They had dated publicly while Giuliani was married to Hanover. His first marriage ended in an annulment.
A Giuliani staff member referred calls on Land's statement to Giuliani's exploratory committee, which did not have an immediate response Tuesday night.
Giuliani already has a challenge in winning over conservative who make up the GOP's base and view him with skepticism because of his moderate views on social issues such as gays, guns and abortion have been viewed as too liberal.
Land noted that Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been married twice, but said the Arizona senator has acknowledged his part in the failure of his first marriage.
"It's a molehill compared to Giuliani's mountain," Land said. "When you're a war hero (like McCain), you have less to prove on the character front."
Many polls identify Giuliani as the front-runner in the Republican presidential primary, followed by McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Southern Baptists have been among the most vocal of conservative Christian groups in support of the Bush administration. But they and other evangelicals are struggling to find a consensus presidential candidate who embraces their stands against gay marriage and abortion.