By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/30/2004 7:42:24 PM ET 2004-08-30T23:42:24

Live from Madison Square Garden tonight, the softer side of George W. Bush's Republican Party.

In prime time this week, what one GOP insider calls its moderate rock stars: McCain, Giuliani, Schwarzenegger. All have huge public approval ratings, but all sharply disagree with the party's platform on issues like abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage.

Democratic critics say the president is using these moderates to pull a fast one on middle of the road voters.

"He's leaning on them to carry him through and basically to vouch for him that he's not as bad as the four years, you know, of his record," says Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.).

To critics, it's reminiscent of the convention four years ago when the Bush team highlighted another moderate theme.

"It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity. This is what I mean by compassionate conservatism," said Bush at his party's Philadelphia convention in 2000.

Polls show most of this year's delegates are far more conservative than the moderate face the party is putting on.

But David Storck, a Republican delegate from Florida, doesn't mind different points of view if it helps the cause.

"You have to realize that if we don't win, we're not going to have a chance to even get close to those values," he says.

Campaign strategists say the goal all week in New York and on the campaign trail is to attract undecided voters who tend to be more moderate. One top White House adviser says the group may only be six percent of the vote in November, but in a tight race — that's crucial.

In fact, for weeks Mr. Bush has traveled the country with McCain, Giuliani and more recently Democratic Sen. Zell Miller (Georgia) in search of swing voters.

It's a sign — say GOP strategists — of how much support the president already has among his conservative base.

"I think the moderates are the final piece of the coalition that Bush needs to put together to win," says Republican strategist Scott Reed.

Monday night, the prime time sales pitch begins.

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