One of the great questions of this election will be whether social conservatives abandon Rudy Giuliani. Conventional wisdom suggests that they will. The Giuliani campaign has gone to great lengths to argue that they will not. Today, the LA Times weighs in with polls and anecdotes:

"He’s got that New York mentality — that’s why I don’t like him," Veenstra said. "Around here, it’s family, pro-life."

But in conversations with Republicans here in the first state to vote in the 2008 presidential race, the more striking thing is how evangelicals Carolyn Vande Voort, Joy Milby and Mike Brown see Giuliani: They disagree with him on social issues, but lean toward him anyway.

And therein lies a startling aspect of Giuliani’s candidacy: Nationwide, he is the No. 1 choice of white conservative Christians for the Republican nomination. A Times poll this month found 26% of them favor Giuliani — more than double the portion supporting either of his top rivals, John McCain or Mitt Romney.

Now, the questions are: do voters know about his positions and what else could he appeal to them on that would be just as strong. Gallup defends the conventional wisdom:

A March USA Today/Gallup poll found a majority of Republicans were unaware of Giuliani’s positions on abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage. Research shows that significant segments of Republicans, particularly more conservative Republicans, are less likely to vote for Giuliani once his positions on these issues are explained.

However, the LA Times found a number of people who were not moved by that:

But it also demonstrates the potency of his tough-on-terrorism message among conservatives who prize strong leadership on national security.

"You want someone who’s demonstrated character," said Mike Brown, a Pella city employee walking past tulip beds in the town square, on his way to lunch at In’tveld’s diner.

Brown, 56, thinks Giuliani is wrong on abortion, but he wants a president who will cope with crisis the way the mayor responded to the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001. "Just being able to remain calm, dispatch the people, handle the situation — those are things I really find favorable," Brown said.

In the end, we don’t know. Rudy is betting one way. Romney, as Jonah Goldberg pointed out, is betting another way. We shall see. As I said, elections are experiments.

As I have argued, and Rudy has echoed, he only needs to win enough social conservatives to cobble together a winning coalition. But, ultimately, I suspect, if Rudy can find a winning coalition, it is not likely to be dominated by social conservatives. To some extent, I think that this whole narrative is a product of a press that may not understand what putting together a coalition means.

And, in the end, Rudy’s fate is probably more determined by the issues that Messrs. Veenstra and Mr. Brown mentioned:

"He’s got that New York mentality — that’s why I don’t like him," Veenstra said. "Around here, it’s family, pro-life."

"You want someone who’s demonstrated character," said Mike Brown, a Pella city employee walking past tulip beds in the town square, on his way to lunch at In’tveld’s diner.