NEW YORK – Delegates officially submitted the names of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney Monday for nomination to second terms as the Republican National Convention (search) got into full swing.
An alphabetical state-by-state roll call began that will be spread out over several nights, though only some states will cast their delegate votes.
There are 2,509 voting delegates, and a candidate needs a simple majority to be nominated. Bush and Cheney are likely to receive the official nominations by Wednesday night at the latest, when the process is expected to end.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party portrayed Bush as a crisis leader on the level of Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill as it kicked off the convention in New York, the city that bore the brunt of the worst terrorist attacks in American history.
Republicans mixed praise of Bush with efforts to discredit Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry and his vice presidential candidate, Sen. John Edwards.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., called the Democratic ticket "weak on war and wrong on taxes. Folks, it's an easy choice."
Sen. John McCain (search ) saying it was fair game to criticize the Democrat's anti-war protests three decades ago, while using their national convention to portray Bush as a strong wartime leader.
"He has not wavered, he has not flinched from the hard choices," McCain, R-Ariz., said of his 2000 primary rival in remarks prepared for Monday's evening session.
But Democrats were quick to challenge the GOP theme, pointing to Bush's comments in a television interview suggesting that the War on Terror could not be won.
"This is no time to declare defeat," Edwards said. And Democratic Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack told reporters in New York, "This is a president who doesn't believe we can win the War on Terror."
The convention at Madison Square Garden (search) launched under extremely tight security, with a helicopter hovering overhead and thousands of police posted at barricades. Republicans were paying tribute to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in their opening session.
"We will leave here with momentum that will carry us to victory in November," Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said to a roar of approval as the convention got under way. Gillespie promised a positive agenda that he said would expand Republican control of Congress and governorships.
And another Democrat, former New York Mayor Ed Koch (search), addressed the opening session, delighting delegates by saying, "This year, I'm voting for the re-election of President George W. Bush."
Koch, who was mayor from 1978-89, then introduced the current mayor, Republican Michael Bloomberg.
"We've shown the world New York can never be defeated," Bloomberg said in welcoming the delegates.
Protesters, who numbered at least 120,000 during loud but peaceful demonstrations on Sunday, generally gave back the streets of Manhattan to commuters. One group of protesters in oversize Bush masks and wild costumes heckled convention-goers as they left their hotels Monday morning.
Ahead of the opening gavel Monday, McCain told CBS's "The Early Show" that television ads run against Kerry accusing the Democrat of lying about his military service in Vietnam were "dishonest and dishonorable." But, he added, "What John Kerry did after the war is very legitimate political discussion." Kerry was a leader of Vietnam veterans who opposed the war.
The latest polls show Bush and his Democratic challenger in a virtual tie.
Marc Racicot, chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election team, was quick to sound the GOP theme of the day. "Under President Bush, we have a safer, more hopeful America," Racicot said.
Republicans on the Offensive
Monday was intended to focus on Bush's leadership in the war on terrorism, with the Sept. 11 tribute to families of victims and speeches by McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search).
"In choosing a president, we really don't choose a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or liberal," Giuliani said in prepared remarks. "We choose a leader. And in times of danger, as we are now in, Americans should put leadership at the core of their decision."
Bush and his supporters were expected to use the convention — the first for the GOP in this Democratic stronghold — to lay out a second-term agenda that reaches out to moderate Democrats and independent voters.
In fact, most of the prominent speakers — Giuliani, McCain and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who speaks Tuesday — are far more politically moderate on social issues than most convention delegates.
Democratic Sen. Zell Miller (search) of Georgia gives the keynote address on Wednesday.
Republicans, encouraged by recent polls that show Kerry losing some ground to Bush in areas such as leadership and national security, pressed their months-long efforts to portray him as weak on national defense and as a waffler.
Edwards sought to counter the GOP efforts to portray Bush as a strong leader.
"We have seen what this administration's approach does to our standing in the world. It isolates us," Edwards said in remarks prepared for a speech Monday in Wilmington, N.C. "It costs us respect from our allies. It means we must face these new challenges alone."
"After months of saying he'd done everything right on Iraq and foreign policy," Edwards added, "the president acknowledged just the other day that he miscalculated the way in which he waged the war in Iraq. He believes that he may have won the war too quickly and that was a miscalculation."
Kerry is "just everywhere" on issues, said Rep. Roy Blount of Missouri, the No. 3 House Republican, rattling off what he said were shifting stances on tax and education legislation.
"He was for removing Saddam Hussein but not by force," Blount said, pausing as the Ohio delegates laughed. "He's waiting for the next election (in Iraq), I guess, to see if he leaves."
On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney denied anew that the Bush campaign had any role in the anti-Kerry ads being run by the group Swift Vote Veterans for Truth.
Cheney received deferments that allowed him to avoid serving in Vietnam, but the vice president told ABC's "Good Morning America" that lack of military service should not be "prohibitive by any means" for potential leaders in wartime.
Bush, who served stateside in the Air National Guard during Vietnam, was campaigning Monday in New Hampshire and Michigan. In an interview on NBC's "Today" show, the president said retreating from the War on Terror "would be a disaster for your children."'
"You cannot show weakness in this world today because the enemy will exploit that weakness," he said.
When asked "Can we win?" the War on Terror, Bush said: "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world."
Delegates will formally nominate Bush as the GOP's candidate to make another run for president in November.
The president won't arrive until 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.
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 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 an already congested city.
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.
More than 100,000 people — some estimates put the crowd at 200,000 — protesting Bush's foreign and domestic policies swarmed through midtown Manhattan and past the Garden Sunday, where the president will accept the party's nomination for a second term on Thursday.
Police gave no official crowd estimate of Sunday'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 from United for Peace and Justice claimed they had turned out roughly 400,000 protesters.
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. Bloomberg has said the GOP gathering will bring up to $250 million in economic activity to the city.
McCain is Monday night's closing speaker and, along with Giuliani, one of the evening's headliners. 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, McCain 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 (search). The high-profile presence of McCain and Giuliani at the convention is supposed to help win over independent voters.
On Tuesday night, first lady Laura Bush, Education Secretary Rod Paige and Schwarzenegger are scheduled to speak. 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 New York Gov. George Pataki (search).
At the convention's conclusion on Thursday, hundreds of pounds of confetti bearing images of Bush and Cheney and their wives will be dropped, along with 120,000 balloons and streamers, during the convention's closing minutes.
The president was on a multi-state tour before arriving in New York.
Pre-convention polls showed the presidential race evenly split between Bush and Kerry, although the challenger has lost ground since his convention bounce in Boston a month ago.
Laying low while Republicans command the spotlight, Kerry spent Sunday at his beachfront home in Nantucket, Mass., and was remaining there until he addresses the American Legion in Nashville on Wednesday. Bush talks to the veterans' convention on Tuesday.
FOX News' Liza Porteus, Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.