Rick Wilking  /  Reuters
Rosa Fernandez vacuums the floor of the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York on the eve of the opening session.
updated 9/1/2004 10:22:27 AM ET 2004-09-01T14:22:27

Republicans marshaled their forces to bolster President Bush’s image as a strong leader in treacherous times as they open their national convention on Monday in the city that felt the brunt of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

The Republican National Convention was convening a day after more than 100,000 people protesting Bush’s Iraq and domestic policies swarmed past Madison Square Garden, where the president will accept the party’s nomination for a second term on Thursday.

“He has not wavered, he has not flinched from the hard choices,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said of his former 2000 GOP rival in remarks prepared for Monday’s evening session.

The convention opens with polls showing Bush and his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, in a virtual tie.

Speakers to focus on war on terror
The opening day was intended to focus on Bush’s leadership in the war on terrorism, with a tribute to families of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and speeches by McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

“In choosing a president, we really don’t choose a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or liberal,” Giuliani said in prepared remarks that compared Bush with Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill. “We choose a leader. And in times of danger, as we are now in, Americans should put leadership at the core of their decision.”

Video: Questions about Bush Bush, who was campaigning in New Hampshire as the convention got under way, also referred to the perilous times in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show .

Asked by interviewer Matt Lauer whether the war on terror can be won, Bush replied, “I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world.”

Bush’s use of American military might also was on the mind of demonstrators who took to the streets of Manhattan on Sunday.

The protesters filled 20 city blocks, many chanting “No More Bush” and “No More Years” and bearing anti-war and anti-Bush banners. Some carried flag-draped, coffin-shaped boxes meant to draw attention to a U.S. death toll in the Iraq war that is approaching 1,000.

Police gave no official crowd estimate. One official put the size at over 120,000, although it took nearly five hours for the procession to pass Madison Square Garden. Organizers put the number at some 400,000. In all, about 100 arrests were reported, with no major outbursts of violence.

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Four miles from Ground Zero
Republicans were gathering about four miles north of Ground Zero, where two hijacked planes destroyed both towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 people died there, at the Pentagon and at a crash site in Pennsylvania.

Bush and his supporters were expected to use the convention — the first for the GOP in this Democratic stronghold — to lay out a second-term agenda that reaches out to moderate Democrats and independent voters.

In fact, most of the prominent speakers — Giuliani, McCain and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who speaks Tuesday — are far more politically moderate on social issues than most convention delegates. Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia gives the keynote address on Wednesday.

Republicans, encouraged by recent polls that show Kerry losing some ground to Bush in areas such as leadership and national security, pressed their months-long efforts to portray him as weak on national defense and as a waffler.

Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, sought to counter the GOP efforts to portray Bush as a strong leader. “We have seen what this administration’s approach does to our standing in the world. It isolates us. It costs us respect from our allies. It means we must face these new challenges alone,” Edwards said in remarks prepared for a speech Monday in Wilmington, N.C.

“After months of saying he’d done everything right on Iraq and foreign policy, the president acknowledged just the other day that he miscalculated the way in which he waged the war in Iraq. He believes that he may have won the war too quickly and that was a miscalculation,” Edwards added.

In an interview with Time magazine, Bush suggested he had underestimated the struggle in postwar Iraq. Bush called the swift military offensive that led to the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 “a catastrophic success” since fighting continues to this day despite the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government.

Bush due to arrive Wednesday
Bush arrives Wednesday after a tour of eight battleground states. He’ll spend one night in New York before returning to the campaign trail.

Laying low while Republicans command the spotlight, Kerry spent Sunday at his beachfront home in Nantucket, Mass., and was remaining there until he addresses the American Legion in Nashville on Wednesday. Bush talks to the veterans’ convention on Tuesday.

The names of Bush and running mate Dick Cheney were to be placed in nomination for second terms on Monday and an alphabetical state-by-state roll call begun that will be spread out over several nights.

There are 2,509 voting delegates and a candidate needs a simple majority to be nominated. GOP officials say Bush and Cheney will likely clinch the nomination on Tuesday night.

Cheney and his wife, Lynne, arrived in town on Sunday by way of Ellis Island — a processing center for immigrants a century ago.

With the skyline of lower Manhattan behind him — the twin towers of the World Trade Center conspicuous by their absence — Cheney praised Bush as “calm in a crisis, comfortable with responsibility and determined to do everything needed to protect our people.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat turned Republican, was greeting delegates at the beginning of Monday’s session. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was also addressing the gathering.

Hastert will compare Bush to two previous presidents from Illinois: Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, and say Kerry is not up to the task, said spokesman John Feehery.

At the convention’s conclusion on Thursday, hundreds of pounds of confetti bearing images of Bush and Cheney and their wives will be dropped along with 120,000 balloons and streamers during the convention’s closing minutes.

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Video: McCain interview


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