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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

Inside Convention, the Fighting Is History

GOP: McCain praises former foe Bush, and past wars and presidents are remembered. Outside, protesters and police clash.

August 02, 2000|RONALD BROWNSTEIN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Sen. John McCain warmly embraced his once-bitter rival for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday, capping a night when George W. Bush's credentials to serve as commander in chief were touted at the GOP National Convention.

On an evening marked by nostalgic celebrations of the three living former Republican presidents, the victory in the Persian Gulf and the generation that fought World War II, GOP war heroes and defense experts took center stage to argue that America needs to strengthen its military.

But like Monday night's opening session, Tuesday's proceedings struck an unusually temperate tone, as speakers focused far more on praising Bush than criticizing President Clinton or Vice President Al Gore.

Four miles from the hall, tension increased markedly as Philadelphia police and protesters clashed downtown. Police arrested at least 280 people during a series of running street skirmishes near Philadelphia City Hall. At least three officers were hurt, one seriously, and at least 20 police cars were damaged.

The trouble began about 2 p.m., when a police SWAT team descended on a West Philadelphia warehouse to serve a search warrant at what was described as a headquarters for protesters. Demonstrations soon spread across several downtown blocks during rush hour, with an estimated 2,000 protesters attempting to block several key intersections.

But the disruptions only slightly delayed convention proceedings, which again featured almost as many musicians, dancers and videos as an Academy Awards broadcast. Planners even sprang a surprise, having Bush's mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, make an unbilled appearance on stage to introduce her son.

He spoke briefly to the delegates from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania; the Bush entourage is scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia today.

In a succession of speeches that closed Tuesday's session, Condoleezza Rice, who advises Bush on foreign policy; Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who also sought the nomination; and McCain all lauded the Texas governor as a man who will unify the nation and set a more civil tone for its political life.

Bush, McCain insisted, "wants nothing to divide us into separate nations. Not our color, nor our race. Not our religion. Not our politics."

Likewise, Dole declared: "Throughout his career, [Bush] has appealed to the best in people, bridging our differences rather than exploiting them. . . . He will use words to inspire, not inflame."

These arguments reflect the Bush campaign's belief that, even amid general satisfaction with conditions in the country, voters are alienated from the fierce partisanship in Washington after the bruising battles of President Clinton's two terms.

Somewhat jarringly, Tuesday's testimonials to Bush's conciliatory instincts came on a day when the candidate delivered some of his sharpest criticisms of Clinton.

The president on Monday had accused Republicans of trying to hide their true beliefs at the convention with "a pretty package" of moderation. On Tuesday, Bush--who has generally avoided mentioning the president by name--fired back that Clinton is "so desperate to have his legacy intact by getting Al Gore elected, he'll say anything, just like Gore will."

On the convention floor, Republicans continued their ongoing roll call Tuesday, advancing as far as North Carolina. That process will conclude today with Bush's formal nomination. And speaking to the session tonight will be Bush's vice presidential pick, Dick Cheney.

The highlight of Tuesday's session was the speech by McCain, who waged a fierce primary fight earlier this year against Bush and likely will emerge as the early front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2004 if Bush loses in November.

McCain was gracious in his remarks about Bush, describing himself as "a distant runner-up" in their race. While not fulsome, McCain's speech praised Bush more warmly than the convention addresses from several other losers in tough primaries, such as Ronald Reagan in 1976 and Democrats Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1980 and the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988. Kennedy and Jackson barely mentioned their opponents.

In an eloquent and broadly thematic address, McCain avoided either direct criticism of the Democratic administration or any mention of his disagreements with Bush on issues such as campaign finance reform. Instead, recapitulating a central theme of his own campaign, the Arizona senator called on Americans to enlist in "a new patriotic challenge to renew and reform government."

Said McCain: "Unless we restore the people's sovereignty over government, renew their pride in public service, reform our public institutions . . . [and] reinvigorate our national purpose, then America's best days will be behind us."

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