"On abortion, I think we should respect each other," the former New York mayor told about 50 Iowans Saturday afternoon at a Des Moines restaurant. "Our party has to get beyond issues like that."
Giuliani is a pro-choice candidate seeking the nomination of an overwhelmingly pro-life party. Not surprisingly, he made no mention of that reality as he spoke later in the day to 1,000 GOP activists gathered for the party's Lincoln Unity Dinner. He did, shrewdly, mention Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment, the one about Republicans not attacking other Republicans.
Abortion didn't come up.
But nearly all of the other eight Republican White House hopefuls who spoke did mention it, over and over again. They know Giuliani leads in early polls. They think the life issue - and broader questions about his conservative street cred - could be his Achilles' heel around these parts.
They weren't talking truce.
"Every child of a loving God deserves our respect and our protection," said U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, cracked a few of his usual jokes before launching into his pledge to protect the "rights of the unborn."
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson underscored his commitment to the cause with an emotional story about the birth of his grandchild.
None of it was enough for former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who questioned whether any of the leading contenders - Giuliani, McCain or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney - are conservative enough.
"Rudy McRomney is not a conservative, and he knows he's not a conservative," Gilmore said, drawing a few groans. He was the lone hopeful to fire a direct broadside at the lead pack.
All of this contributes to the notion that even though Giuliani is supposed to be the front-runner and talks like a front-runner, he doesn't give off that front-runner's vibe, especially in Iowa. Maybe it's because he really isn't the front-runner.
Giuliani is banking on three things to carry him through.
First, he believes that even Republicans who strongly disagree with him will give him credit for his unwavering honesty. That's in contrast to Romney, who is catching brimstone for being a former pro-choicer and current flip-flopper.
"There's no point in trying to fool people. It doesn't work," Giuliani said.
Second, he's betting that Republicans care more about his strong-suit issues - fighting terrorism, growing the economy and cutting taxes. "Never again are we going to be on defense against terrorists," Giuliani said, drawing applause.
Third, he's a national star and proven winner who voters already know and like, even when he's dressed in drag.
But Saturday night raised questions about whether he can pull it off.
His speech was long, focus-free and sort of flat. His seat at the left end of his party means he can't serve the kind of red meat that gets GOP activists fired up. The crowd was polite and even friendly at times but there was an air of discomfort that was difficult to miss.
Most of his rivals spent the day and night talking about being "authentic," "reliable" and "consistent" conservatives. Also known as "We're not Rudy." That drumbeat isn't going to stop anytime soon.
Giuliani probably is getting tired of being asked about his disconnect with the party's right wing. He jumped into an SUV Saturday afternoon without taking reporters' questions. He granted no interviews to Iowa media this weekend.
Without a truce, Giuliani needs to get ready to fight it out. Otherwise it's his campaign that Iowa Republicans will put behind them.
Todd Dorman is Statehouse bureau chief for Lee Enterprises newspapers. He can be reached at (515) 243-0138 or email@example.com.