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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

GOP shows unity, post-9/11 resolve

 •  Hawai'i puts its mark on New York
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By Jeff Zeleny
Chicago Tribune

NEW YORK — The Republican Party opened its national convention yesterday in the shadow of the country's deadliest terrorist attack, invoking the sentiment and resolve of that September morning three years ago as the chief reason Americans should not replace President Bush during a time of war.

Hawai'i state Rep. Barbara Marumoto places a lei on the state standard in Madison Square Garden on the first day of the GOP convention in New York. Hawai'i sent 20 delegates to the convention.

Associated Press photos

Four miles from Ground Zero, a symbol that transformed Bush's presidency, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain delivered prime-time testimonials defending Bush's policies and portraying him as a more decisive leader than Democrat John Kerry.

Gathering in Madison Square Garden under an umbrella of unprecedented security and unshakable unity, the party paid tribute to the Sept. 11 victims as Giuliani and McCain spoke with emotion about the strength of Bush's leadership, aiming to win over independent voters who could break the deadlocked race.

"In choosing a president, we really don't choose just a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or a liberal. We choose a leader," Giuliani said. "And in times of war and danger, as we're now in, Americans should put leadership at the core of their decision."

As the president campaigned through battleground states on his way to New York City, stopping yesterday in New Hampshire and Michigan, he told a television interviewer the war on terror cannot be won in the conventional sense of a victory. Even as aides tried to clarify his remark so it would not interrupt a carefully choreographed week, it was the latest in a series of statements that seemed designed to lower expectations before the election.

For the first time in party history, Republicans selected New York City to stage their nominating convention, allowing the White House to highlight the less controversial days of Bush's war on terrorism. As antiwar protests outside Madison Square Garden cooled one day after a massive rally, McCain sought to assure Americans the president's decision to invade and occupy Iraq was "necessary, achievable and noble."

Arizona Sen. John McCain

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
"This president will not rest until America is stronger and safer still, and this hateful iniquity is vanquished," said McCain, a much-decorated Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war who challenged Bush for the GOP nomination in 2000. "He has been tested and has risen to the most important challenge of our time, and I salute him. I salute his determination to make this world a better, safer, freer place."

Only hours after the delegates formally ratified a conservative platform strongly opposed to abortion and gay rights, Republican leaders hoped to soften the party's image by presenting Giuliani and McCain as the featured stars of the evening.

Both men are among the party's most revered mavericks, and the White House believes they can help draw skeptical voters to the ticket of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Republican strategists also sought to soften Cheney's public persona, briefly introducing him along with his wife and two young grandchildren.

In a night filled with tributes, two stood out: One to the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, another to U.S. troops who have served — and died — in Afghanistan and Iraq. Former President George H.W. Bush, a decorated World War II Navy veteran, the president's father, appeared almost in tears.

Republicans interviewed on the convention floor seemed to share the emotion. New York delegate Meilin Tan vividly remembered the terrorist attacks and thinking it was the end of the world. "I feel that we should talk more about it," said Tan, a state government volunteer. "I wish the rest of the world would understand what we've been through. I want the world to know that we are still suffering."

Three women whose relatives died in the attacks interrupted the political speeches with moving personal tributes, recalling the sacrifices made by their loved ones.

Since Republicans selected New York City as their convention site, Democratic leaders have accused them of trying to capitalize on the worst act of terrorism on American soil. The White House has walked a careful line by not overtly linking the two, and declining to hold political events at Ground Zero.

New York City's former Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, spoke to the Republican National Convention yesterday, where memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks underlined the terror-fighting theme.
Delegate Roy Lyons, a 62-year-old retired Navy engineer, said Republicans were not using the tragic events for political gain. "It's not politics. This is war," said Lyons, who traveled here from Florida. "I just think the American people have to be reminded why we're fighting — why we're fighting in Iraq, why we're fighting in Afghanistan."

Those were the themes McCain invoked in his address as he praised the president's aggressive response to the attacks.

"I knew my confidence was well placed when I watched him stand on the rubble of the World Trade Center with his arm around a hero of Sept. 11," McCain said, adding: "He promised our enemies would soon hear from us. And so they did. So they did."

Throughout the day, several Republicans sharply criticized Kerry, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who pointedly declared from the podium: "Does anyone really know where John Kerry stands on the war?"

In the final speech of the evening, Giuliani delivered a blistering critique of Kerry and sought to portray him as a waffler unfit to guide the nation during wartime. The remarks served as a preview of the way Republicans say they plan to define Kerry over the coming days and weeks.

"John Kerry's record of inconsistent positions on combating terrorism gives us no confidence he'll pursue such a determined course," Giuliani said. "John Kerry's claim, that certain foreign leaders who opposed our removal of Saddam Hussein prefer him, raises the risk that he would accommodate his position to their viewpoint."

McCain, by contrast, avoided any mention of the Massachusetts senator, whom he considers a good friend. Instead, he struck a partisan-free tone in a bitterly divisive election year.

"I don't doubt the sincerity of my Democratic friends," McCain said, "and they should not doubt ours."

Michael Moore, the filmmaker whose "Fahrenheit 9/11" slammed Bush, walked the halls of Madison Square Garden Monday night wearing a red ball cap, black sweatshirt and blue jeans. Conventional officials said that even though Moore is an unabashed Democrat, they granted him credentials as a filmmaker.

McCain took direct aim at Moore, who had taken a seat in the convention hall.

"It was between war and a graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, not our critics abroad, not our political opponents," McCain said of the war in Iraq. "And certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker, who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace, when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children held inside their walls."

Thousands of Republicans cheered. From his seat in the hall, Moore held up his hands and smiled as the crowd booed and for a minute or two began chanting "Four more years!"

"That line was so good, I'll use it again!" McCain said. And when the cheering subsided, he assailed Moore again as the crowd roared in approval.