NEW YORK – Republicans arrived for their national convention Sunday in a city still marked by terror attacks three years ago that led to a War on Terror that has marked President Bush's (search) administration.
Vice President Dick Cheney (search) stopped by to check out the scene at Madison Square Garden in New York City Sunday afternoon as the GOP faithful and tens of thousands of protesters marched on the Big Apple ahead of the party's 38th convention.
A small group of delegates have been in New York City since the middle of last week for platform hearings, but scores arrived on Sunday in preparation for the week's events.
Delegates will formally nominate Bush as the GOP's candidate to make another run for president in November. The candidate himself arrives Wednesday. He will spend one night in New York before bolting for the battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Ohio and beyond, shortly after accepting the GOP nomination.
Inside the hall, the transformation from sports and entertainment center to convention site was complete Sunday, with a custom-made podium filling one side of the hall and thousands of balloons ready to be dropped from above.
Cheney helped kick off the four days of events, receiving a rousing welcome from Republican delegates at Ellis Island earlier in the day. Once considered the gateway to America for about 22 million immigrants between 1892 and 1924, the home of the Statue of Liberty served as the reception area for Cheney, who was introduced by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and current New York Gov. George Pataki.
Cheney stood up in long sleeves in 85-plus degree weather to emphasize Bush's fitness to lead the nation in the War on Terror (search).
"America is still a land of golden opportunity. It's the duty of our generation to make sure that our children and our children's children have all the opportunities we have enjoyed, and more," said Cheney, whose own family emigrated in 1635 as part of a Puritan movement from England. "That effort has to begin with keeping our nation safe, and a sure reminder of that is the skyline of this great city, which was altered so violently on Sept. 11, 2001."
Security and Protests in Gotham
The big story at this year's events is the unprecedented security around the center of political activities, Madison Square Garden (search) in Midtown.
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 and apples, which could be used as projectiles.
In Penn Station, located underneath the convention site, police officers with guns, flak jackets and plastic handcuffs seemed to outnumber people coming and going from the station.
Thousands of police guarded Gotham's roadways, bridges, tunnels and ports, while vehicle restrictions in an 18-square-block area around the Garden snarled traffic in a city already congested. Air surveillance was also being conducted over the city, monitoring activity in the harbor and stationing security personnel at every hotel housing any of the delegates or alternates.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators also have taken to the streets.
"The majority of this country wants the Bush administration out of office," filmmaker and Bush critic Michael Moore told a crowd that had gathered about 20 blocks south of the convention site Sunday.
Police gave no official crowd estimate of the day's protest. One official put the size at 120,000, although it took nearly five hours for the procession to pass Madison Square Garden. Organizers claimed they had turned out roughly 500,000 protesters.
"Today we send our message," said Leslie Cagan, leader of United for Peace and Justice, the march's organizer. As marchers began their protest, one handmade sign read, "Iraq and Vietnam. So many deliberate lies. So many wasted lives."
A large banner said, "Save America. Defeat Bush." Several protesters carried flag-draped, coffin-shaped boxes through the streets, meant to draw attention to the U.S. death toll in Iraq. 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.
New York police said more than 300 people had been arrested through Saturday night for disorderly conduct and convention-related incidents. More than 200 were arrested Sunday, police said.
At mid-afternoon, a small fire erupted along the protest route a half block from the Garden. Police quickly doused the flames, then handcuffed two people and led them away.
The Lay of the Land
The convention will host 2,508 delegates and 2,344 alternates and about 8,000 volunteers will be working the event. About 50,000 visitors will hit Manhattan during the week for the event that has cost about $100 million to organize, according to convention staff. Security alone has cost the city about $76 million, while accredited media number about 15,000.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will open the primetime proceedings on Monday night, visited the site earlier Sunday. He has said the GOP gathering will bring up to $250 million in economic activity to the city. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee also surveyed the center Sunday afternoon.
Also taking a tour was Sen. John McCain, who is Monday night's closing speaker. Originally an opponent of Bush for the Republican nomination four years ago and someone who has opposed some of the president's signature legislative initiatives, the Republican senator has since begun actively campaigning for Bush.
The Vietnam-era POW on Monday will testify to his faith in Bush as a commander-in-chief during the War on Terror. The high-profile presence of McCain and Guiliani at the convention is supposed to help win over independent voters.
On Tuesday night, first lady Laura Bush, Education Secretary Rod Paige and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are scheduled to speak.
A commitment to Bush's re-election is the message also being delivered Wednesday night from the convention's keynote speaker.
Sen. Zell Miller (search), a Democrat from Georgia, delivered the keynote speech the last time Madison Square Garden hosted a major party convention but that was for the Democrats in 1992.
Although he said he was born a Democrat and will die a Democrat, he has a message for delegates.
"The reason, I'll tell them, that I'm supporting George Bush is because I know the man," Miller told FOX News Sunday. "We served as governors together. I know he's the right man at the right place at the right time."
Also scheduled on Wednesday are second lady Lynne Cheney followed by her husband, who will deliver his acceptance speech for the vice presidential nomination.
Bush will be introduced on Thursday night by Pataki. The president was on a multi-state tour before arriving in New York. He started his day on Sunday by making time for church then taking a bike ride before campaigning in West Virginia. He won the state four years ago and is fighting for a repeat victory.
In an interview with Time Magazine released Sunday, Bush reflected on his decision to go to war.
"Had we had to do it all over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in ... escaped and lived to fight another day," Bush said.
And although he says he enjoys his job as president, Bush said, "Washington is a much more bitter, ugly place, dominated by special interests, than I ever envisioned. I was surprised."
Pre-convention polls showed the presidential race evenly split between Bush and Democrat John Kerry (search), although the challenger has lost ground since his convention bounce in Boston a month ago.
Kerry was spending Sunday 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.
FOX News' Julie Kirtz, James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.