Convention Opens With Bush, Powell

Monday, July 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Brimming with confidence and boasting of harmony, Republicans are raising the curtain on George W. Bush's convention with opening-night appeals to women, minorities and moderates by the Texas governor's wife, Laura, and retired Gen. Colin Powell, one of the GOP's biggest stars.

``We're on our way to Philadelphia and we're on our way to victory!'' Bush exulted at an Ohio rally on a bus trip to the Republican National Convention. He'll make nightly appearances by satellite links on the road before arriving in town Wednesday.

Thousands of red, white and blue balloons hung in nets high above the floor of the First Union Center in anticipation of Bush's acceptance speech Thursday. Three gigantic television screens lined the stage to project larger-than-life images of convention speakers. The over-arching theme: ``Renewing America's Purpose. Together.''

New polls showed Bush leading Democrat Al Gore anywhere from five to 12 percentage points. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll that came out Monday gave Bush a 47 percent to 42 percent lead in a two-way race, or a 44 percent to 38 percent margin if other likely candidates were factored in. Democrats tried to burst Bush's bubble with television ads in 17 battleground states attacking running mate Dick Cheney's conservative voting record.

Bush described his vice presidential pick as ``a solid man, a man of integrity,'' and Cheney defended himself on Sunday television talk shows. Cheney acknowledged that might vote differently now on issues ranging from gun control to women's rights — prompting Democrats to seize on his turnabout.

``It's hard to figure how someone could change his position on all of those issues without undergoing a partial lobotomy,'' said Ed Rendell, co-chairman of the Democratic National Committtee.

Cheney, arriving in Philadelphia, told several hundred sign-waving supporters that ``one of the things I feel best about ... is my record.''

Republicans boasted that the party was more united than at any time since the 1984 re-election of Ronald Reagan. ``It's very important to us that there is unity and a feeling of optimism about winning the White House,'' said Gerald Parsky, chairman of the California delegation, who said many Republicans in his state voted for Ross Perot in 1992 and stayed home in 1996 .

In the spirit of harmony, Sen. John McCain released his delegates and urged them to give Bush's campaign ``the same amount of enthusiasm and participation you did for our primary campaign.'' He said the nation does not like ``sore losers.''

McCain's supporters — totaling about 160 in all — groaned in disappointment and a few said they could not back Bush. ``I don't think I can vote in good conscience for Bush. I think he's sending the wrong message,'' said James Manning, a McCain delegate from New York.

Monday night's speeches by Laura Bush, a former librarian, and Powell, a black military leader who rose to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are the opening of a concerted effort to soften some of the party's hard edges of the past.

Mrs. Bush, for example, is expected to focus on literacy, an issue she has championed from the governor's mansion. The first day's theme is ``Leave No Child Behind.''

One of the first pieces of business was ratifying the GOP's platform of policy principles, a manifesto that reaffirms a desire to ban abortion with no exceptions and toughens language against gay rights and family planning counseling for teens. At the same time, it eases some stands, dropping calls for abolishing the Education Department and setting a more welcoming tone for immigrants.

``This platform is putting the flesh on compassionate conservatism,'' said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the platform chairman, using Bush's slogan.

This marks the first political convention in Philadelphia since 1948 near the dawn of the television era. A half century later, major TV networks are slashing back their reports on grounds that there's no suspense about the outcome. But that hasn't deterred cable outlets — and Internet reporters — from saturation coverage.

Democrats will open their convention in Los Angeles on Aug. 14.

GOP organizers promised ``different kind of convention for a different kind of Republican'' — in line with Bush's theme of being a ``compassionate conservative'' focusing on issues like education and Social Security.

``My job is to lift the spirit of the country,'' Bush said at a rain-soaked rally at a suburban baseball field in Cincinnati. ``My job is to set our sights high. My job is to say a united nation can achieve that which we want: to make sure people are not left behind,'' Bush told the ballpark rally.

In a break with tradition, the convention will begin a rolling roll call of the states Monday night, spreading out the state-by-state declarations of support over several nights instead of making the audience endure what usually is an hours long process.

Far from the convention hall, several thousand activists in colorful costumes and bearing signs and banners with diverse messages crowded downtown streets in a mostly peaceful protest Sunday. Several tense confrontations erupted between police and smaller groups of protesters but they were negotiated with no arrests. However, protesters have promised greater disruptions beginning Monday, and police have indicated they won't be as willing to compromise.