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Published: Wednesday, 9/1/2004

GOP touts Bush's soft side

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

NEW YORK - Emphasizing "compassionate conservatism" on the second night of their convention, Republicans turned to First Lady Laura Bush and daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush last night to showcase the softer side of President Bush.

Mrs. Bush was introduced to delegates by her daughters and via satellite television by her husband from a Little League game in Pennsylvania.

"I am a lucky man to have Laura by my side," he said, adding that Americans would be lucky to have his wife as First Lady for four more years.

Mrs. Bush said in the live prime-time broadcast carried by all major networks that her husband agonized through White House walks and somber suppers and took the United States into war against terrorism "because he knew the safety and security of America and the world depended on it.

"I remember some very quiet nights at the dinner table. George was weighing grim scenarios and ominous intelligence about potentially even more devastating attacks," she said.

"And I was there when my husband had to decide," she said.

Her speech was a rare foray into foreign policy for a political spouse whose main campaign focus has been on schools and children. More than half her speech dealt with the wars on terror and in Iraq.

But Mrs. Bush also talked about her husband as the man she's been married to for 26 years and how the presidency has affected him. He's "a little grayer" and has learned a lot in the past few years, she said, but "is still the man I met at a back-yard barbecue in Texas and married three months later.

"He will always tell you what he really thinks. You can count on him in a crisis. His friends don't change, and neither do his values. He has boundless energy and enthusiasm for his job and life itself," Mrs. Bush said.

Earlier in the night, California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born movie star and former bodybuilder, sidestepped his policy differences with Mr. Bush on such issues as abortion-rights, gun control, and gay rights to deliver a resounding speech on how he as an immigrant lived the American dream and rose to wealth, power, and fame.

Mr. Schwarzenegger spoke after others portrayed Mr. Bush as a courageous leader who promotes religion, volunteerism, home ownership, adoption, medical care without lawsuits, and a cure for breast cancer.

"I'm proud to belong to the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, the party of Ronald Reagan, and the party of George W. Bush," Mr. Schwarzenegger said. He is married to Maria Shriver, a Kennedy Democrat.

The former bodybuilder said he believes with all his heart that America is still the "great idea that inspires the world" and that his fellow immigrants are welcome in the party.

But Republicans are not united on how to treat immigrants. Mr. Schwarzenegger wants to deny illegal immigrants in his state the right to drive. Mr. Bush wants to let immigrants work for two years in America, an offensive idea to many conservatives, but insists it is not the amnesty program Hispanics are seeking.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, whose famous movie lines include "I'll be back," said, "America is back. Back from the attack on our homeland. Back from the attack on our economy. Back from the attack on our way of life. We're back because of the perseverance, character, and leadership of the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush."

But the line the delegates liked most by Mr. Schwarzenegger was, "For those who are pessimistic about the economy, I say, 'Don't be economic girly men.' ''

He used that line in a Saturday Night Live TV skit and more recently about political opponents in California.

Delegates were delighted to have a Hollywood celebrity speaking last night. The networks decided to air three hours, one hour a night, at the Democrats' meeting in Boston and an hour last night, tonight, and tomorrow night for the Republicans' meeting in New York.

By special arrangement, Pennsylvania's 75 delegates put Mr. Bush's nomination over the top at 7:30 p.m., giving him the 1,255 votes needed to snare the nomination, not a surprise but a nod to the state's importance in the upcoming election.

In 2000, Mr. Bush lost the state to Al Gore by four percentage points. The President has visited the state nearly three dozen times since being elected.

At the Democratic Party's convention last month in Boston, Ohio - a key state which narrowly went for Mr. Bush in 2000 - put Mr. Kerry over the top.

Polls this week show that if the election were right now, Mr. Bush would win the electoral college with 274 votes (270 needed for victory), compared with 264 for Mr. Kerry.

But tides of opinion in the 17 battleground states continue to shift, making both parties insist the Nov. 2 election will be close.

Last night the emphasis was on promoting compassion and volunteerism in America, which Democrats dismissed as an idea the Republicans resurrect every four years and then forget.

Mr. Bush has been making a tour of battleground states as he wends his way to New York.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who ran against Mr. Bush in 2000, thanked him in a convention speech yesterday for restoring "honor and dignity to the White House."

Rep. Anne Northrup (R., Ky.), an adoptive mother, praised the President's incentives to adopt. Mr. Bush's nephew, George P. Bush, whose mother is Hispanic and who is the son of Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida and the President's brother, said more Americans own their own home than at any other time.

He spoke in Spanish.

Senate Majority Leader William Frist, a surgeon, touted the prescription-drug bill the first significant reform of Medicare, although it is expected to cost at least $537 billion and excludes many in the middle class.

But it was Mr. Bush's family last night - not party policies - that took center stage with a sea of GOP delegates waving "W Stands for Women" signs.

The President's daughters, both 22 and recent college graduates, warmed up the crowd for their mother with one-liners.

They raised some eyebrows with their exchanges, which Jenna called "payback on live television" for past "embarrassment" from their parents.

Jenna said her grandmother, Barbara Bush, the former first lady, thought the TV show Sex and the City was something married people do but never talk about. Their grandparents shook their fingers in admonition.

But they turned more serious as they introduced their father and mother to the convention.

"They taught us the importance of a good sense of humor, of being open-minded and treating everyone with respect," Barbara Bush said.

Laura Bush told the convention her goal last night was to "answer the question that I believe many people would ask me if we sat down for a cup of coffee or ran into each other at the store: You know him better than anyone - you've seen things no one else has seen - why do you think we should re-elect your husband as president?"

Her answer: His vision for a safer world.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Ann McFeatters at:

amcfeatters@nationalpress.com

or 202-662-7071.



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