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Published: 8/30/2004

More conservative platform among party's initial goals

BY JAMES O'TOOLE
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

NEW YORK - One of the Republican delegates' first orders of business this morning will be the approval of a platform that reflects the party's increasingly conservative convictions.

The proposal takes a strong line against abortion rights, while endorsing President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to bar gay marriages.

For most television audiences, however, the first glimpse of the convention will occur with prime-time speeches from figures such as New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, and, tomorrow night, California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. President Bush will be introduced Thursday by New York Gov. George Pataki. Each of them opposes the platform position on those social issues.

This gathering's seeming schizophrenia on those issues reflects the very different audiences of the party manifesto, the television production, and the changed role of conventions.

In atmospherics, if not on issues, the Democratic convention offered similar contrasts for similar reasons.

There, a party that had torn itself apart over Vietnam and had taken a generally skeptical view of the arms buildup of the Reagan era celebrated the combatants of Vietnam and subsequent wars while parading a constellation of generals' stars through its convention's prime time hours.

In an earlier era, there was more consistency between the messages delegates would read in a platform and hear from the speakers' podium. Once, convention orators would try to change minds with red meat rhetoric calculated to appeal to the most committed partisans.

But that was when conventions selected nominees rather than ratified choices made in primaries and caucuses.

Now the paramount audience is not the committed delegates but the vastly larger group that will watch or hear about the gathering in homes across the country, particularly those in the minority of states considered still up for grabs on Nov. 2.

While convention planners still hope to reinforce the party's base, a goal that the Bush White House has paid particular attention to, they are also reaching in a closely divided election to the minority of voters who have yet to decide - hence the moderate television face this week.

Rep. Melissa Hart (R., Pa.) spent much of August midwifing the conservative platform as co-chairman of its drafting committee. She rejects the notion that there is any inconsistency between the platform and some of the featured speakers.

"They're there not because they're moderates, but because they are leaders of the party and people that Republicans want to see,'' she said.

Ms. Hart, who is a strong conservative on social issues, pointed to language within the platform that calls on Republicans to recognize and respect differences on issues.

"A party is not an ideology, it's a coalition and it's a coalition that has a goal of winning elections,'' she said.

Ms. Hart also disputed the suggestion that the convention's speakers are unusually tilted toward moderates. She noted that conservatives such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and her Pennsylvania colleague, Sen. Rick Santorum, also received speaker slots this week.

Neither, however, has the same prime-time showcase as the more moderate speakers. Coincidentally or not, both were announced as speakers after the initial list of speakers sparked criticism from conservatives.

The largest section of the platform that will be presented to the delegates today involves national security and terrorism with repeated references to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the thousands of deaths that occurred within walking distance of the convention floor.

Whether many people would notice is another question about modern platforms. Few voters are likely to seek out the GOP document or its Democratic counterpart, which was approved almost without notice in Boston. Ms. Hart acknowledged the text is not headed to the best-seller list, but she said it remains a significant document.

"Most people don't read the platform but in one form or another they will hear different pieces of it,'' she said.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O'Toole is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact James O'Toole at: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.



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