With the first day of the Republican National Convention canceled thanks to the threat of Hurricane Gustav, things got back on track yesterday with a day devoted to playing up the parties 2008 nominee:\
ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 2 — Republicans began laying out a vigorous argument Tuesday for electing John McCain to the presidency, using the second day of their national convention here to portray the senator from Arizona as an independent-minded leader who would put the best interests of the nation before those of his party.
After canceling most of its opening-day program because of Hurricane Gustav, the GOP returned to regular order Tuesday night with speeches from McCain friends and allies who extolled his judgment and character. Among them were Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), the Democrat-turned-independent who was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, and President Bush, who spoke by satellite video from the White House and hailed the candidate as ready to make the tough choices necessary for keeping the country safe.
Bush singled out McCain’s strong support for a troop “surge” in Iraq at a time when other lawmakers had lost confidence in the war. “One senator above all had faith in our troops and the importance of their mission, and that was John McCain,” the president said. “Some told him that his early and consistent call for more troops would put his presidential campaign at risk. He told them he would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war.”
Bush’s words served to buttress one of the main goals the McCain campaign had set for the second night of the convention: to present the candidate as a leader who takes action and speaks his mind regardless of the political toll. But Bush’s presence, even if only on the big screens at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, also complicated McCain’s difficult task of convincing war-weary Americans that his administration would represent a departure from Bush at a time in which many voters say they want change in Washington.
One of the most energetic and well-received speeches of the night came from former Tennessee Senator and Presidential candidate Fred Thompson:
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Fred Thompson, the actor turned politician, recounted the harrowing story of John McCain’s captivity as a Vietnam prisoner of war to tout the presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention and criticized Democrat Barack Obama’s support for abortion rights.
“Now, being a POW certainly doesn’t qualify anyone to be president,” Thompson said Tuesday as images of McCain flashed behind him on a giant screen. “But it does reveal character.”
After Monday’s opening session of the convention was abbreviated and toned down in deference to Hurricane Gustav, Thompson signaled that political rhetoric was back.
He called Obama the “most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president.”
Best known recently as the gruff district attorney on NBC’s “Law & Order,” Thompson once was a rival of McCain. But the Tennessean dropped out of the presidential race in January after his much-anticipated campaign failed to gain strong support among conservatives.
Thompson’s address included a defense of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose announcement as McCain’s running mate has been overshadowed by disclosures that an attorney has been hired to represent Palin in an investigation into an Alaska controversy and that her unmarried daughter is pregnant.
“Give me a tough Alaskan governor who has taken on the political establishment in the largest state in the Union — and won — over the Beltway business-as-usual crowd any day of the week,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s speech was clearly among the most well-received of the night, especially considering it was one of the first red-meat partisan speeches the delegates have heard.
The award for the most unusual speech of the night goes to the man who was the Democratic Party’s nominee for Vice-President only eight years ago:
ST. PAUL — Senator Joseph I. Lieberman’s speech to Republicans here on Tuesday night represented the culmination of an improbable path for a politician who just eight years ago was accepting the Democratic nomination for vice president and hailing his party’s nominee, Al Gore, as “a man of courage and conviction.”
During that time, Mr. Lieberman came to champion, with Mr. McCain, the American invasion of Iraq, and in doing so was frozen out by liberals in his party and denied renomination as a Democrat to the Senate. He won re-election as an independent, in 2006, and spoke to Republicans on Tuesday portraying himself as a man who transcends party lines.
“Dear friends, I’m here because John McCain’s whole life testifies to a great truth: being a Democrat or a Republican is important, but it is nowhere near as important as being an American,” Mr. Lieberman said to cheers, as electronic screens around the convention hall here flashed “Country First,” one of Mr. McCain’s campaign themes.
Mr. Lieberman and Mr. McCain have been close friends for more than a dozen years, working together on peace in the Balkans, regulations of gun shows after the Columbine High School shootings and promoting measures to curb carbon emissions. But it was the Iraq war that marked the turning point in Mr. Lieberman’s journey to the McCain camp.
His invitation to speak here was largely because of their political kinship as Washington leaders who have often felt uncomfortable in the boundaries of their parties.
Only last month, friends say, Mr. McCain wanted to reach beyond his base and ask Mr. Lieberman to be his running mate; in that instance, though, party influence proved too strong, with many Republican officials and delegates insisting they would reject Mr. Lieberman because of his support for abortion rights and some gay rights laws.
Mr. Lieberman’s address received some of the biggest applause of the night in the convention hall, topped perhaps only by a filmed tribute to President Ronald Reagan.
The irony of a man who was Al Gore’s running mate, who still caucuses with the Democrats, and who agrees with maybe about 10% of the GOP Platform addressing the Republican Convention was, I am sure, lost on nobody.
Will Lieberman’s “national unity” message go very far ? Perhaps. If the polls are making one thing clear, it’s that the partisans on both sides, Democratic and Republican, are “coming home” and that the battle between now and November will be for that 10-12% of unaffiliated voters who haven’t made up their mind. It will be interesting to see if McCain picks up on the theme in his speech on Thursday.