Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani picked up a potentially important endorsement in his bid to win the Republican Party's presidential nomination next year. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Giuliani is getting a boost from the Reverend Pat Robertson, a prominent Christian leader and social conservative activist who founded the Christian Coalition and the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Robertson announced his endorsement in a joint appearance with Giuliani in Washington.

"A proven leader who is not afraid of what lies ahead and will cast a hopeful vision for all Americans," said Robertson. "Rudy Giuliani stood tall as his city was rocked by the worst terrorist act in America's history."

Robertson is respected by many conservative Evangelical Christians but is also known for making controversial statements. For example, following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Robertson said Americans had left themselves vulnerable because they had insulted God by allowing abortion and pornography.

The Robertson endorsement could be significant as Giuliani tries to build bridges with social conservatives who disagree with the former mayor's support for abortion and gay rights.

Giuliani leads the Republican presidential field, but his rivals continue to try to chip away at his advantage in the polls by highlighting his disagreements with conservatives over social policy.

Giuliani welcomed the Robertson endorsement as part of an effort to unify the Republican Party behind his candidacy.

"I hope it sends the message that we have the same goals, all of us in the Republican Party," said Giuliani. "There are always some disagreements about means, but the reality is that this underscores the point that I made from the beginning of my candidacy, I think speaking in California, when I cited Ronald Reagan's advice to us that my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy."

Robertson made no mention of his past differences with Giuliani over social issues. Robertson ran for president in 1988 as a Republican.

Meanwhile, Giuliani rival John McCain also had an endorsement to announce.

McCain picked up the support of Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. Brownback is a social conservative who dropped out of the Republican presidential race last month after a poor showing in a test vote in Iowa.

Like Giuliani, McCain has a history of clashes with social conservatives within the Republican Party.

Some experts believe social and religious conservatives will be more open to moderates in 2008 in hopes of keeping the White House in Republican hands.

Dan Bartlett is a former top aide to President Bush who recently gave an assessment of the Republican presidential battle in Washington.

"Republicans, I believe, are terrified about losing the presidency after losing Congress. I think this is going to be the season of the pragmatic Republican voter," Bartlett said. "That bodes well for Rudy and it gives McCain a shot."

The latest polls show Giuliani continues to lead the Republican field while Hillary Clinton remains well ahead of her rivals for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Head-to-head polls, which are often unreliable one year before the election, give Clinton a narrow lead over Giuliani if the election were held today.