NEW YORK - At an Ellis Island rally on the eve of the Republican National Convention, Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday touted President Bush as a strong leader who led the nation through the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And across the harbor, protesters marched through Manhattan, branding Mr. Bush as a liar and demanding an end to the war in Iraq and to his presidency.
The contrasting events in this most liberal of cities illustrated the divide of the nation's voters just two months before the 2004 election and the often-feverish passion that the President inspires on both sides of the aisle.
As New Yorkers prepared for the 4,800 delegates and alternates who will converge for the convention at Madison Square Garden this week, the prevailing emotions appeared to be annoyance and frustration, with a little bit of vindication for New York Republicans mixed in.
Deirdre Cahill, a 25-year old Republican, stood in Union Square watching the protesters stream past holding signs that assailed the President she deeply admires.
But she shrugged when asked about the protesters. "It's a free country," she said, adding that she was glad Mr. Bush was returning to New York to officially accept the Republican nomination again, in part because of his leadership after Sept. 11 and in the war on terror.
"It makes me proud," said Ms. Cahill, who was clearly in the minority in that part of the city yesterday.
"[John] Kerry stands for nothing," she said, referring to the Democratic nominee.
Joined by some of the most prominent leaders after Sept. 11, including former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Mr. Cheney echoed those sentiments about Mr. Bush when he noted at Ellis Island that "in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on America, people in every part of the country, regardless of party, took great comfort and pride in the conduct and the character of our President."
And while Bush campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said that Sept. 11 will not be a focus of the convention and that the GOP will simply pay a "respectful tribute" to Sept. 11 this week, the issues of 9/11, national security, and terrorism are as present in the Republican theme of the week as they were for the Democrats.
As both parties fight for ownership of those issues, the Republican theme for the convention -"Fulfilling America's Promise: Building a safer world and a more hopeful America" - is just as focused on those issues as the Democrats' slogan was for their convention: "Stronger at Home, Respected in the World."
It is almost certain that Mr. Giuliani, who has fiercely defended Mr. Bush's right to invoke Sept. 11 in his campaign commercials and on the trail, as well as current Mayor Michael Bloomberg will address those issues tonight, when they are the featured opening night speakers, along with Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Mr. McCain and Mr. Giuliani are both expected to focus on Mr. Bush's leadership in the war on terror. In excerpts of Mr. McCain's remarks, released by the Bush campaign last night, the senator will say Mr. Bush "has been tested and has risen to the most important challenge of our time."
But yesterday, many other New Yorkers standing on the sidelines of the protests spoke resentfully of the invocations of Sept. 11 in the context of the President's party.
Some like Elizabeth Jennings of Westchester County said they were riled by what they viewed as the overt use of the memory of Sept. 11 for political purposes.
"Bush's numbers were falling quite a bit before Sept. 11th, the economy was going in the toilet, jobs were dropping off the edge of the planet. All of a sudden
9/11 comes along and he's a freaking hero," said Ms. Jennings, a Democrat who took in the scene from Fifth Avenue with a disposable camera. ''There's no support for him here," she said. "I can't see why the Republican National Committee would select New York. I think probably the next worse place for [Mr. Bush] would be Baghdad."
Almost three years ago, Mr. Bush spoke to much of the nation when he first visited the World Trade Center site on Sept. 14 and climbed on top of the ash heap that surrounded the area where the twin towers once stood. "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!" he shouted into a bullhorn before raising an American flag.
The Time Magazine cover that appeared on the newsstands showed Mr. Bush in that salute under the banner headline: "One Nation, Indivisible."
Yesterday, that unity seemed little more than a memory.
It was the protesters marching not more than 3 miles north of the World Trade Center site who were wielding the bullhorn as they wound past the convention site at Madison Square Garden blowing whistles and drumming on upside-down buckets, shouting, "No more Bush."
Mr. Bush's favorability ratings have shifted significantly even since the Republicans announced in January, 2003, that they would hold their convention in New York. Around that time, between Jan 3 and Jan. 5, 63 percent of Americans who participated in a CNN-USA Today-Gallup Poll said they viewed Mr. Bush favorably. This past week, the Gallup organization found that only 49 percent of those voters polled said they approved of the job he was doing.
A recent New York Magazine poll showed that only 28 percent of New Yorkers have a favorable impression of Mr. Bush while 54 percent said they have a favorable impression of Mr. Kerry.
The Democratic Party faces its own challenges this week - fending off the barbs from convention podium while trying not to be closely associated with protesters, who assembled fairly peacefully. The New York Police Department reported an estimated 134 arrests yesterday.
Last week, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe repeatedly stated that the party had nothing to do with the protests and that it wants the GOP to have a peaceful convention.
Many protesters identified themselves proudly as Democrats. But there were a slew who said they were independents who normally would lean toward independent candidate Ralph Nader.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Maeve Reston is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Maeve Reston can be reached at: email@example.com -74.00713