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NEW YORK - GOP chairman Ed Gillespie was trying to explain why the party's firebrands are not speaking at the Republican National Convention, at least not in prime time, while socially liberal Republicans will be on the podium when the TV networks go live.
"I'd be impeached if I didn't have Rudy Giuliani speak while we're here in New York," he exclaimed on his way to an elevator. Mr. Giuliani, hero of the hour as the former mayor who led New York's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is one of the party's liberals in a largely Democratic city.
Earlier, addressing reporters, Mr. Gillespie said Arnold Schwarzenegger, the abortion-rights advocate who is governor of California, is speaking because for years Americans "in droves" paid "eight dollars" at the box office to see the ex-movie star in action "and we're offering him for free."
Marc Racicot, chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election committee, explained that feisty conservatives such as Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are not speaking because President Bush prefers that his national security team not engage in partisan politics.
But the truth, party officials said privately, is that Republicans are putting their most popular stars out front to try to attract swing voters.
Committed Republicans will vote for Mr. Bush no matter who speaks at the New York convention. Swing voters who see a "kinder, gentler" party than they're used to might vote for Mr. Bush if they're not sure about Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), the Democratic nominee, said a Republican who works for Mr. Bush in the White House.
Besides Mr. Giuliani, who speaks tonight, the 4,500 delegates and alternates will hear from Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who fought Mr. Bush engaged in a bitter fight for the nomination four years ago. Why? Polls show he remains one of the most popular politicians in Washington and is seen as a maverick who is not afraid to go off the reservation.
For a short time Senator Kerry toyed with the idea of asking Senator McCain to be his running mate., although Mr. McCain says he never directly was asked and would have said no.
Mr. McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam War for five years, will be the counterweight to Mr. Kerry's service in that controversial war that the Democratic convention in Boston emphasized in an effort to present Mr. Kerry as ready to lead a nation at war.
Some Republicans think it does not matter that Mr. McCain has been harsh in his criticism of Mr. Bush for not denouncing sooner and more strongly the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads, which are independent from the president's campaign.
A few days ago Mr. McCain said that he was outraged that any Republicans were making an issue of Mr. Kerry's tour of duty in Vietnam, for which he was awarded medals for bravery under fire and for being wounded.
Mr. Bush has used Mr. McCain in his campaign ads, but so has Mr. Kerry briefly. He has been friends with Mr. McCain for years. The Kerry ad was aimed at showing that Mr. Kerry is a man who gets along with people in both parties. It was pulled at Mr. McCain's request after Mr. McCain endorsed Mr. Bush.
Mr. Gillespie said that he wants Americans to see Mr. Bush as "a good guy," who is fun to be with and who promotes diversity. Having Mr. McCain speak at the convention shows that "George W. Bush's party" is "a big tent, in Lee Atwater's words,'' said a Republican National Committee aide. The late Mr. Atwater was a top GOP operative who pushed the party to be more inclusive of blacks and Hispanics.
Tomorrow, the highly popular First Lady, Laura Bush, will speak, followed by Education Secretary Rod Paige, who is black, and Governor Schwarzenegger, who will emphasize that America accepted him as an immigrant even with his "funny accent." Now look, he will say, he's been elected governor of the most populous state.
Vice President Dick Cheney, unquestionably one of the most conservative Republicans in government and the party's main "attack dog" against Mr. Kerry, will speak Wednesday but, said Mr. Gillespie, he will be speaking not just as a "solid, influential vice president but also as a good guy.''
Mr. Gillespie said he "wouldn't mind that [nice guy image] happening for the next few days." In other words, Americans are supposed to see his softer side of the hard-nosed vice president.
Party officials said Mr. Cheney will stress his boss' personal qualities.Arriving in New York yesterday, Mr. Cheney called Mr. Bush "calm in a crisis" and "comfortable with responsibility."
Mr. Cheney departs from Bush policies on one issue: amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage. His daughter Mary is a lesbian. He recently said he believes Americans should be free to make their own relationships.
The keynote speaker Wednesday night is not Mr. Cheney or his wife Lynne, who also will speak, but a Democrat. Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia votes with Republicans almost always and is scornful of Democratic policies and Mr. Kerry right now.
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