NEW YORK – Republican delates gathered to nominate President Bush for a second term as demonstrators took to the streets on Sunday to protest his foreign and domestic policies.
A day ahead of the start of the Republican National Convention (search), up to 250,000 demonstrators were expected to march up Seventh Ave. past the Madison Square Garden convention site in midtown Manhattan. The protesters were denied a permit to demonstrate in Central Park, but many said they would go there anyway.
As the protesters gathered 20 blocks south of the convention site Sunday morning, New York police said more than 300 people had been arrested through Saturday night for disorderly conduct and convention-related incidents.
Meanwhile, Bush reflected on his role in the War on Terror. "I'm not the historian. I'm the guy making history," the president said in an interview with Time magazine.
Asked what he learned from the past four years, Bush said he'd learned "that Washington is a much more bitter, ugly place, dominated by special interests, than I ever envisioned."
Pre-convention polls showed the race evenly split between Bush and Democrat John Kerry, although the challenger has lost ground since his convention in Boston a month ago. The four-day Republican convention opens Monday.
On the eve of the convention, politicians of both parties made the rounds of television talk shows.
Sen. Zell Miller (search), a Georgia Democrat who will deliver the keynote address Wednesday night, said he'd never voted for a Republican for president "but I'm going to this time."
Kerry "is not in the mainstream of this country. He's way to the left of this country," Miller said on Fox News Sunday.
Bush went to church Sunday morning, rode his mountain bike and was flying later to Wheeling, W.Va., for a rally. He was campaigning in battleground states as he makes his way to this overwhelmingly Democratic convention city.
Kerry was spending the day at his beachfront home in Nantucket, Mass., where he planned to plot strategy for the final two months of the presidential campaign.
"We've got 66 days to go, and I'm in a fighting mood," he said on Saturday during a campaign visit to Washington state.
Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), D-N.Y., said that Bush's re-election "would be a disaster." Interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press," Clinton accused the president of "four years of unaccountable use of power" and of a failed economic policy.
Asked if she agreed with Kerry's call for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) to resign, Clinton said, "I'm hoping the entire administration is fired on Nov. 2."
On Saturday, thousands of abortion rights protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Besides the protest march past the convention site, several other events were planned, including a gay rights demonstration and a vigil in Central Park by a group of Sept. 11 families opposed to the Iraq war.
The New York Daily News made a front-page pitch for calm on Sunday, publishing a front-page editorial with the headline, "Play Nice."
The convention site is several 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.
Thousands of police guarded New York roadways, bridges, tunnels and ports, while vehicle restrictions in an 18-square-block area around the Garden snarled traffic in a city already congested.
Inside the hall, the transformation from sports and entertainment center to convention site was complete, with a custom-made podium filling one side of the hall and thousands of balloons above.
A small group of delegates have been here since the middle of last week for platform hearings, but scores were arriving on Sunday.
Bush arrives Wednesday. He'll spend one night in New York before bolting for the battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Ohio and beyond shortly after accepting the GOP nomination.
The delegates were arriving under unprecedented security.
Convention attendees were greeted with a list of prohibited items that included guns, explosives, fireworks and knives — "regardless of size" — as well as some less obvious items such as umbrellas.
"Umbrellas — especially the big golf-type ones — they could be used in an improper way as a weapon," said Ann Roman, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service.