For the moment, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani sits on double-digit leads over the rest of the Republican presidential-hopeful pack in several national polls.
"It appears to me that Rudy is going aggressively after the conservative vote," says Pennsylvania Republican and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. "He has not ceded that ground to anybody."
Santorum, known nationally for his social conservatism, says Giuliani does a good job of reminding people how he governed as a conservative on crime, welfare and taxes in New York City.
Santorum also believes Giuliani has scored points on social issues with his comments about judges and Supreme Court justices.
"Rudy understands that, on those issues, the courts are where conservatives have been losing the battle," he says. "If he is going to be appointing judges in the Scalia-Thomas (mold), then he is sending a very positive message to conservatives that he understands the importance of having the Constitution interpreted for what it says and not for what people want it to be."
Speaking recently to members of the Hoover Institution here, Giuliani explained his positions on tax simplification, entitlement reform and school choice. That same night, he traveled to the heart of Virginia -- a troubled red state that is leaning blue.
Later he told me how important it is that his campaign be idea-driven.
"When I speak, I try as best as I can to explain my ideas of governing," he said. "Take the members of the Hoover Institution. I think of them as a group that has done an exceptional job, changing the intellectual climate of the country. They have made it possible for ideas that would generally be considered to be too conservative to actually become mainstream, acceptable ideas about cutting taxes, supply-side economics and fiscal discipline."
Giuliani said Hoover's approach to the Soviet Union -- successfully achieving peace through military and diplomatic restraint -- was at the core of Ronald Reagan's policy, "and Ronald Reagan was a hero of mine."
In Virginia, the conversation that GOP members wanted to have with Giuliani centered on the Iraq war and the state of the Republican Party.
"That discussion was focused on the war in Iraq and how we have to look at it," he recalled. "But we also talked about how the Republican Party should position itself and rejuvenate itself as the party of freedom over our own lives."
When Giuliani speaks these days, many conservatives listen -- something that would never have happened even as recently as two years ago.
In Washington last weekend, for example, Giuliani spoke before the annual conservative family reunion, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). His invite to the gathering was somehow lost in the mail in 2005.
In a normal Republican primary in a normal year, Giuliani would have no chance. This time, however, the presidential race is shaping up to be different. He owns the top of the polls right now, based on personality, the war and his language on terrorism. Borrowing from Santorum's playbook, he is not afraid to use the phrase "Islamic fascism."
Former Reagan aide and longtime conservative activist Charlie Gerow says he sees a tremendous groundswell of support for Giuliani, even among hardcore conservatives whose support for him might surprise some people.
"I think that the No. 1 reason why conservatives are saying that they like Rudy is they think that he is a winner and they want to win in 2008," Gerow says. "They also believe that he is with them on the issues that truly matter."
Gerow says even many pro-life people he talks with say that pro-choice Giuliani's stand on judges and justices is important to them.
"Plus his personality is infectious -- he has that presidential timber, that successful quality that people gravitate toward," says Gerow, who recently launched QubeTV, the conservative answer to video-sharing giant YouTube.
"A lot of the conventional wisdom would say that the conservatives won't support Rudy," he says. "I think that, for all those reasons I laid out, you are going to find a lot that will."