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The Nation | THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Democratic Senator Will Speak for Republicans

The choice of Zell Miller to give the convention keynote address is seen as a bid for swing voters.

August 20, 2004|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

CRAWFORD, Texas — Republicans on Thursday announced that a conservative Democrat, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, would be the keynote speaker at their party's national convention -- the latest signal of President Bush's effort to woo swing voters in his reelection bid.

Miller, who is retiring from his Senate seat, endorsed Bush several months ago and previously had been named as a convention speaker. But by tapping him for the keynote speech, the GOP heightened his prominence at the convention, which meets in New York from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. Miller will speak Sept. 1.

Other spotlighted speakers at the gathering include California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. John McCain (D-Ariz.) and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

All three are more moderate politically than Bush on several key issues, causing some conservative activists to complain that the convention's agenda strays from the GOP's base of support. But some political analysts think that will benefit Bush.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 21, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Republican convention -- An article in Friday's Section A about the naming of Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia as the keynote speaker for the Republican National Convention identified Sen. John McCain of Arizona as a Democrat. McCain is a Republican.

"The administration has done a very good job for three and a half years, perhaps too good a job, of shoring up his conservative base," said Charles Cook, an independent analyst based in Washington. "At this point, reaching to the middle is what he needs to do. The convention program, highlighting moderates and a Democrat, is a sign that this is what they intend to do."

Miller, once considered a leader among Southern Democrats, has increasingly distanced himself from his party since he became a senator in 2000. Known for his folksy style, he was one of three keynote speakers at the 1992 Democratic convention, which nominated Bill Clinton for president.

His speech then is best remembered for its attacks on then-President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father. "Let's face facts: George Bush just doesn't get it, he doesn't see it, he doesn't feel it, and he's done nothing about it," said Miller, who at the time was Georgia's governor.

This year, Miller has lauded the younger Bush as a "strong commander in chief who is guided by the right principles." He also has criticized Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee, as too liberal.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Thursday that Miller was "indicative of the broad support the Republican Party has earned under President Bush's compassionate conservative leadership, as Americans reject the 'out of the mainstream' direction of John Kerry's Democratic Party."

But Democratic leaders derided his scheduled appearance at the GOP convention.

"This is emblematic of what the Republicans are trying to do with their convention -- namely, mislead the American people," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. "Republicans claiming that Miller is a Democrat doesn't make it true."

Miller's selection as the GOP's keynote speaker was announced in New York by Gillespie and Mark Wallace, deputy manager of Bush's campaign. They said the convention's theme was "Fulfilling America's Promise: Building a Safer World and a More Hopeful America."

When the Republicans decided more than a year ago to hold their convention in New York's Madison Square Garden -- not far from where the World Trade Center stood -- and schedule it so close to the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many observers saw it as a sign of Bush's intention to run for reelection on his credentials as a wartime commander engaged in a continuing war against terrorism.

And in recent days, the president has seemed especially energized as he has described himself as a war president who wants to pursue his efforts to protect America. As he put it Wednesday while campaigning in Wisconsin, "I clearly see the task at hand."

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