WASHINGTON – Evangelical Christian leader Pat Robertson on Wednesday endorsed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has struggled to bridge with conservatives some of his socially moderate policy positions on abortion and gay rights.
The endorsement is a coup for the Giuliani campaign, especially after opponent Mitt Romney recently racked up two major endorsements from social conservatives.
Robertson on Wednesday said Giuliani is the best candidate to handle the War on Terror. He said Giuliani understands the need for a conservative judiciary, and that he is a "true fiscal conservative" who is tough on crime.
"The overriding issue before the American people, is the defense of our population against the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists," Robertson told the National Press Club audience. "Our world faces deadly peril...and we need a leader with a bold vision who is not afraid to tackle the challenges ahead."
Robertson said Giuliani is "a proven leader who is not afraid of what lies ahead and who will cast a hopeful vision for all Americans ... It is my hope and prayer that he will lead the Republican Party to victory in November of 2008."
In accepting the endorsement, Giuliani said Robertson's support brings confidence to the campaign and that it underscores "Ronald Reagan's advice to us that my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy."
A Giuliani campaign aide said the candidate has known Robertson for a long time, and their relationship was cemented on a flight back from Israel shortly after Saddam Hussein was captured. The two discussed their views on Israel and domestic policies at the time.
The Giuliani aide said that the two have shared goals despite some minor differences.
During a visit to his South Carolina headquarters in Columbia later in the day, Giuliani said he was pleased to have Robertson's support, and played down a question about Robertson's controversial comments after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Shortly after Sept. 11, Robertson released a statement in which he said the attacks occurred because Americans had insulted God and lost the protection of heaven by allowing abortion and "rampant Internet pornography."
Robertson is founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, known best for its regular Christian news program — which he hosts — "The 700 Club." He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1988.
Giuliani's campaign news followed another major endorsement for a Giuliani rival for the GOP nomination, Ariz. Sen. John McCain. McCain grabbed the endorsement of conservative Christian favorite Sen. Sam Brownback, who pulled out of the race last month.
Brownback said in a statement that "John McCain has spent a lifetime standing up for human rights around the world, including a consistent 24-year pro-life record of protecting the rights of the unborn."
McCain and Brownback were expected to make campaign stops together throughout Iowa and Michigan Wednesday.
But the Robertson endorsement also was a shot at Romney, who recently announced that Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich and conservative Bob Jones III were backing his campaign.
Romney brushed off both McCain's and Giuliani's recent endorsements.
"Everybody has their own choice ... I can't get all social conservatives to endorse my candidacy," Romney said. "People choose a lot of different paths, but I expect I will continue to get good support and so will the other guys."
Asked specifically about the Giuliani endorsement, Romney indicated it would have little effect.
"I don't think the Republican Party will choose a pro-choice, pro-gay/civil union candidate to lead our party," he said.
FOX News' Carl Cameron, Mosheh Oinounou, Malini Bawa and Shushannah Walshe, and The Associated Press, contributed to this report.