“First Read” is a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news. Please let us know what you think. Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.

Starting today, and through the end of the GOP convention look for First Read "Garden Party" updates throughout the day of all the behind the scenes action from the floor, the delegations and the parties in New York City.

6:15 p.m. ET

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Hundreds from the women's protest group "Codepink" joined up with today's anti-Bush protestors to voice their concerns about the war in Iraq and a woman's right to choose. Dressed to impress, the ladies looked pretty in pink, sporting a variety of things: leg warmers, wigs, parasols, and jewelry. Leading the group was a gigantic lingerie "pink slip" with the words "Fire Bush" written on it. With chants, songs and even a dance team, the women -- and yes, even some men -- made sure to keep their spirits high along the route that started at Madison Square Park and ended in Union Square. The ultimate "pink diva" was 75-year-old Evelyn Rothstein. She has spent the majority of her life, she said, marching for women's rights, civil liberties, and against the Vietnam War. She said the incentive to come today was the chance to leave a legacy for her family. "I want my grandchildren to remember that Grandma marched," said Rothstein. Go Grandma, go.

--Kathy Young

Let the Parties Begin...
It didn't have an indoor ferris wheel like the one in Boston did, but last night's media party inside the marvelous Time Warner Center -- the first real convention party here in New York -- was quite a spectacle. We spied several media and political celebrities: CNN's Larry King, Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, New York Gov. George Pataki, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. We also saw the usually grouchy political commentator John McLaughlin exchanging pleasantries with Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa.

There were also street performers, a band ... and supermodels. One model in particular caught our eye: six-foot-tall Camilla from Uganda. She was there to promote -- what else -- Time Warner magazines. Dressed in a blue wig and a revealing dress made to look like magazine covers, she was gawked at, touched, and even proposed to. Later, Camilla got out of her costume and joined the party. She told us posing for magazines is an easy job and the pay is very good. She also said that, one day, she hopes to be a member of the media (which, of course, is much more glamorous than being a model).

But the star of the evening was the man with the gray-and-white spiked hair: Don King, the flamboyant boxing promoter. And his hair wasn't the only thing that stood out: He was wearing a shining red, white and blue sequined denim jacket.

--Alice Martin and Jason Williams

A Little More on Don King
Because King was the star of the party, we did what reporters do best -- we bombarded him with questions. Our biggest one: Are you a Democrat or a Republican?  "I'm a Republocrat," he answered defiantly. King explained that he is voting for Bush because he has appointed more minorities to important positions -- like Colin Powell and Condi Rice -- than any other American president. He also said he supports Bush because "his friends respect him, and his enemies fear him." But King was quick to point out that he is not necessarily loyal to the GOP. For him, minorities need to stop voting along party lines and vote for candidates who will do the most for them. This year I'm voting Republican, he said, but "if next time a Democrat makes a better offer, then I'll vote for him."  

--Janet Alicea and Alice Martin

The Meat Market
The atmosphere at last night's party can be summed up in two words: meat market. After all, when working journalists aren't working, they're definitely working it. We saw one man approach a female guest who was wearing a shirt with a ribbon on it, and he asked her if he could untie her ribbon. Another woman was there to work a modeling job, but she actually had another objective in mind. "I just broke up with my boyfriend," she said, "I'm here to find a man."  Another brave man admitted that the pickings were plentiful. "I've been smitten more then once tonight," he said. The night ended like all nights on the town end: The lights came on and the beer goggles came off.  And some people went home with a phone numbers while others just went home.

--Kathy Young

Sunday, August 29, 2004 | 10:10 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Flori Engler.

FIRST GLANCE (65 days until election day)
The eve of Bush's convention features some noteworthy rhetorical maneuvering. 

First, President Bush seems to be using his pre-convention interviews to try to disarm some of the bigger criticisms out there of his national and homeland security credentials.  After telling the New York Times that he miscalculated in estimating the conditions of post-war Iraq, he told NBC's Matt Lauer yesterday that Kerry's military service was more heroic (Lauer's word) than his own: "He was in harm's way, I wasn't."  And he tells Time "he now finds himself asking a second set of questions on the intelligence that he might not have asked before."

We don't expect this to quell Democrats' criticisms of how Bush went to war, of how he handled post-war Iraq, or of his National Guard service.  Just yesterday, Wes Clark had this to say about Bush at a Kerry event in Tacoma, WA: "...George Bush is indecisive... he's incompetent, we're tired of these attacks on our veterans...  Where was George Bush when young men from Arkansas and Texas and Massachusetts were called to serve their country...  He wasn't there..." 

But it may be enough to begin to clear the decks with the media on some issues that otherwise would have dogged him through coverage of his security-themed convention.

President Bush today holds a rally in Wheeling, WV at 2:15 pm. 

As part of Democrats' response to the convention, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton today does her first round of live morning show interviews since December 2003.  Her appearance on Meet the Press and other shows, and at church with husband Bill, will be her only convention-related events in the state.  MSNBC's Felix Schein reports the Senator is expected to focus on the exploitation of September 11 and the failed leadership of the President when it comes to terror, taxes and the economy, per a party source (though presumably she won't be quite so blunt as that...).

Former President Clinton addresses the Riverside Church congregation between 11:00 am and 11:30 am.  Per the church's website, he will be introduced "as part of an announcement about the current Mobilization 2004 campaign to recover America's spiritual, moral and democratic values."  That said, Schein reports Clinton's speech will be less political, as he's speaking in a church, and will allege a contrast exists between what people had in the past and what they now have. 

And the Vice President officially arrives in New York today, joining Pataki and Giuliani at a welcome rally on Ellis Island at 12 noon.  He does his podium check at MSG at 5:00 pm.

The Democratic ticket is down, Kerry on Nantucket and Edwards in DC.  We do wonder if the weather heading toward the US mainland will affect Edwards's scheduled national security speech in Wilmington, NC tomorrow.

Democrats' "America Can Do Better" bus tour, including Americans from battleground states around the country, arrives in New York with a rally scheduled near City Hall at 3:00 pm.  The Democratic rapid response operation also releases a pair of 15-second TV ads going up in New York; the current buy is just $25,000.  The ads apply Democrats' "Mission Not Accomplished" theme to jobs and the middle class.  And their HQ is open for tours from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.

And Bush twins Jenna and Barbara Bush host an "R Stands for Roseland" Party at Roseland tonight at 9:00 pm.

Bush's convention build-up
The Los Angeles Times says the race is still "far too close for the comfort of several GOP strategists who say Bush has yet to present the forward-looking agenda they deem essential to him winning a second term."

USA Today observes, "Republicans say a main goal of their convention that opens Monday is to reintroduce [Bush] to the nation."

On the stump, the New York Times says, Bush “is subtly shifting his campaign pitch toward the middle ground: stripping his speeches of strong ideology, emphasizing economic pragmatism, even admitting to making what he casts as modest errors in judgment in the Iraq war.”

The New York Times also reports on how involved aides say Bush is in his campaign: "While making sure Mr. Kerry is challenged at every opening, they said, the single most consuming concern for Mr. Bush is that there is an elaborate get-out-the-vote operation in November...”  And the Times also gets Karl Rove to say that the idea of his being Bush’s brain is a myth. 

The Washington Post reports, "...[T]he sense of relief that Bush's condition looks better than expected did little to obscure deeper concerns among Republicans about the overall race that still tilts against the president and about the importance of using the convention to move the contest more decisively in his direction."

"Bush's challenge this week, say strategists in both parties and outside analysts, will be to convince wavering voters, particularly in battleground states, that he represents a better -- and safer -- bet for the next four years than his challenger, whatever personal feelings those voters have about Bush's first term."

"Kerry advisers say Bush will have trouble achieving his goals this week, in part because many of the voters he will be trying to reach dislike the policies he has pursued...  [W]ith a little over two months before the election, Bush has little time in which to make that case, and while his convention offers his best opportunity to date to do so, some analysts say he has failed to take advantage of the powers of the presidency to do so already."

The Los Angeles Times explores the complex relationship between 41 and 43: "The man who will stand before the nation on Thursday is a product of his father's example, his high expectations and expansive advantages, but he is also someone who has bristled at them enough to establish his own style: openly religious, politically combative and aggressive in his approach to foreign policy and tax cuts.  The path Bush has chosen also has put him in one more competition with his formidable father" -- a contest to win a second term.

The Washington Post reports on Cheney's self-dubbed last campaign and concludes he may be a wash in terms of how he helps and hurts the ticket.  The New York Daily News also speculates on how Cheney may hinder Bush politically.

The Wheeling, WV Intelligencer quotes a Bush campaign aide claiming today's rally will be "one of the biggest rallies the president has had in West Virginia."

First-term retrospectives
Another Washington Post story harks back to Bush's post-election 2002 presser touting the GOP wins and asks, "How did a leader who was so formidable become so vulnerable?"

"In small ways, the answer is an accumulation of miscalculations and missed opportunities...  In a large way, however, Bush's predicament is less a reversal of his 2002 success than... the consequence of two confrontations he sought that autumn.  To the dismay of Democrats, who suspected he was manipulating national security for political advantage, he invited the electorate two years ago to judge him over the then-looming confrontation with Iraq.  To the delight of Democrats, it is precisely such judgments that polls say are shadowing his reelection campaign."

"By the same token, his decision to confront Democrats directly and immerse himself in partisan electioneering ensured that he would face reelection with little of the rally-behind-the-leader sentiment that flowed to him after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks...  Bush's decisions and political style have virtually eliminated the political center..."

"Some White House officials acknowledge they have not had a major success since the capture of Saddam Hussein in December, which provided a fleeting bump in polls.  Some of these officials have begun what is the rare process of second-guessing themselves.  For instance, some of Bush's senior aides believe they would be better off if they had preserved Medicare prescription drugs to use as a campaign issue."

The Boston Globe takes its turn looking back at how Bush's 2000 acceptance speech laid "a foundation of bold and broad risks...  Now, as Bush again prepares to accept his party's presidential nomination, his candidacy is based on at least two major ventures fraught with risk -- the war in Iraq and massive tax cuts -- as well as on his reliance on risk as a style of governing."  The story calls Bush "the country's ultimate entrepreneur, gambling his political future and that of millions of Americans on the biggest stage of all."

David Broder says, "As a consequence" of the White House's determination to assert "sovereignty" and "legitimacy" (a Bush advisor's words) early on after the Florida recount, "Bush's first term has had striking -- sometimes radical -- changes in the direction of national policy.  Long-held assumptions about U.S. military and diplomatic strategy have been overturned, with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and bruised relationships with some traditional allies.  At home, the budget has gone from large surpluses to larger deficits, while tax burdens have shifted and been reduced.  The federal government has taken on a much larger role in setting directions for local schools and restructuring those that do not perform.  The largest expansion in federal health benefits since the passage of Medicare in 1965 -- provision of prescription drugs -- passed Congress at Bush's urging."

"Whatever area one examines -- environmental policy, regulatory policy, law enforcement and broad sectors of social policy -- fundamental priorities have shifted at the direction of this president."

New York
The Boston Globe previews Bush's speech, saying it "will reflect the 'transformative power of freedom,' and that is likely to propose new policies on Social Security, education, and health care...  Karen Hughes... said the president plans to present twin visions for a 'safer world' and a 'more hopeful America... He will use the notion of freedom's ability to bring positive change to explain his belief in the power of democracy as a weapon against terrorism, as well as his ideas for an 'ownership society' at home, she said."

The Washington Times says, "all those prime-time speakers - except for rogue conservative Democrat Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia - are centrists, a fact that pushes onto television screens an ongoing struggle for the soul of the party."  The story suggests Miller's speech may help assuage the offense some conservatives are taking over the line-up.

The story also notes that while Bush's speech in the round "will be a new convention tactic, Mr. Bush has stood on centralized stages while on the campaign trail for weeks.  He tends to hold the microphone in his hand while stalking the stage and making eye contact with the crowd surrounding him."

Also: "An issue that connects with conservatives - Mr. Bush's support for a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage - will likely be mentioned at the convention.  Party insiders predict it will be [Sen. Rick] Santorum who brings it up, but it is not expected to be an explicit topic of prime-time discussion.  Even Mr. Bush only brushes by the topic in his standard stump speech."

All is not totally well with the GOP platform, which comes up for a vote after the convention kicks off tomorrow.  Gannett reports an ongoing rift over Bush's immigration proposal, which some conservatives view as an "amnesty" plan even though the platform says it is not.  Rep. Tom Tancredo, a staunch opponent of Bush's plan, "plans to hold a news conference [Monday] to denounce it."

The New York Post covers yesterday 20,000-person pro-choice protest across the Brooklyn Bridge, while the Daily News previews today’s huge march, which it calls the “grandaddy of this week's protests.” 

“Streets will close.  Traffic will back up for blocks.  Fifteen bus lines will be rerouted - all to accommodate the 250,000 anti-war demonstrators who are expected to march past Madison Square Garden to voice their outrage at President Bush, his administration and the conflict in Iraq.”

A New York Times poll of people who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks finds that they “differ from the public at large on some political and national issues: They are more skeptical about national safety and less impressed with the administration's efforts before and after the attacks.”

The Washington Post reports the GOP has brought in a balloon-drop ace to avoid the problems that marked the close of the Democratic convention.

Medals, ribbons and 527s
The New York Daily News has Laura Bush downplaying the Swift Boaters' ads. “‘Do I think they're unfair? Not really,’ she told Time magazine this week. "’here have been millions of terrible ads against my husband.’”

"Unfit for Command" tops the Amazon.com sales list with a backlog on ordering the book, and also tops the New York Times hardcover non-fiction sales list, MSNBC's Becky Diamond notes, so... people are reading it.

Kerry campaign advisers tell Diamond that the tide has turned and that Bush is the one hurting now.  Campaign spokesperson David Wade charges that "the ads have done damage -- to George Bush.  People know the charges are false and half of all Americans think Bush is behind them.  The ghosts of what he did to McCain in South Carolina have returned to haunt Bush."  Kerry adviser Michael Meehan cited the latest Time poll showing that while Bush beats Kerry 46%-44%, 56% say the attacks are "politics as usual."  Asked if Kerry is turning the corner with the ads, Meehan replied, "Let’s just say that they are lucky that their convention couldn’t come at a better time for them on this issue."

Diamond notes that Jim Rassman introduced Kerry at Kerry's Tacoma, WA event yesterday -- and that the campaign brings out the retired Special Forces officer when a veteran's voice is needed to bolster the candidate's credibility. 

Rassman was introduced by Wes Clark who, as noted above, basically called Bush incompetent and also called on him to come clean about his National Guard stint.  Clark ended his remarks with: "Enough is enough.  You want to match early records of service... throw it open to the public... let's compare em... let's talk about policies... John Kerry's a man who knows how to keep America safe."

More Bush-Cheney v. Kerry-Edwards
The Los Angeles Times on the overseas vote: "The ultimate Bush-Kerry battleground may be somewhere more far-flung and unexpected - Israel, Britain, even Indonesia...  Although an official census has never been taken, between 4 million and 10 million U.S. citizens are believed to be living abroad."

"Contrary to widespread belief, it was more likely American voters in Israel, not Florida, who put George W. Bush in the White House four years ago - a phenomenon that has Kerry's supporters in Israel vowing to do whatever it takes to make certain that doesn't happen again in November."

The Washington Post warns, "For the first time, a nationwide list of registered voters has been cross-referenced with multiple lists of e-mail addresses collected from magazine subscribers, catalogue shoppers, online poll participants and the like.  The result is that legislators, candidates for office and interest groups can buy more than 25 million e-mail addresses of registered voters and contact them at will."

The Washington Times says Bush is going to "try to win back the vote of Muslim citizens in America this fall, despite the apparently severe erosion of that voting bloc after taking the United States into war against Iraq."

Nader
The financially troubled Reform Party yesterday reaffirmed its support for Nader, the Washington Post reports.

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