NEW YORK – There is no "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Republicans' Madison Square Garden (search) convention. Those are security guys with submachine guns. And while New York may be a "Wonderful Town" for President Bush & Co. this convention week, it will be anything but on Nov. 2.
The GOP convention, like the Democrats' before it, has a lot in common with those Broadway revivals — old shows, new audiences. An easy walk up Broadway, just past "42nd Street," which is playing there, too.
That's show business, and so are today's national political conventions. When the shouting stops, Democrats dominate the vote here. So New Yorkers won't be seeing much — if anything — of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (search) after the gavel falls and the balloons drop at the Garden on Thursday night. Unless they're here to tap the city's big money donors at fund-raising affairs.
The public opinion polls show Democrat John Kerry (search) leading Bush by a landslide in New York. Gov. George Pataki (search) put the best spin he could on it Sunday. "Obviously, New York is one of the most difficult races — states — for the president to carry," Pataki said on ABC. "But we're going to make the case. We're going to make the Democrats fight here."
Maybe. But Pataki also had to concede that the Bush campaign is not going to be spending any money on New York.
No point wasting campaign time or cash in a state Kerry is virtually certain to carry anyhow.
That's why the Republicans have not held a convention here before, while the Democrats have nominated their presidential candidates in New York five times since 1868.
Conventions are essentially reruns, played out as though there was business to be done, when in fact, all the decisions are set and all but impervious to challenge. The nominees never were in doubt — Bush-Cheney again, despite gossipy rumors that the vice president might somehow be replaced. Bush said not, so did Cheney, and there is not a shred of evidence to the contrary.
For the Republicans there could have been some haggling — perhaps even a bit of quasi-debate — about high-test platform issues like abortion, gay rights, budget deficits. But the management saw to it that all that was settled firmly and quietly before most of the delegates got to town.
So when the curtain goes up at 10 a.m. on Monday to take care of perfunctory odds and ends of routine business, it will be as familiar as the old songs they're playing on Broadway. What suspense there is at the Garden isn't about politics, it is about the security threats that have made some delegates edgy, even with a cordon of 22,000 security people deployed.
Politicians inside the security barriers, marchers and demonstrators outside, police and federal security people trying to make sure it stays that way. Police estimated that more than 100,000 demonstrators waving placards and chanting slogans against Bush and the war in Iraq marched down Seventh Avenue, past the Garden, on a hot, sunny, Sunday afternoon.
This is a city wearing the scars of 9/11, a convention just four miles from Ground Zero.
The war on terror is one of Bush's chief, chosen issues. "We've been attacked, we know there are those who want to do it again," Pataki said. "And this president is providing tremendous leadership."
Without waiting for the opening curtain, the political drama critics already were producing their reviews of the Republican script. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., called it a bait and switch performance because of all the prime TV time performers who differ with Bush and the party platform on topics including abortion rights and other social issues.
"They will have people on the stage who don't run the Congress, don't run the administration, but are going to be putting the kinder and gentler, compassionate conservative look on this administration," Clinton said.
Among the big name convention performers are former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It's a sort of moderate procession to the microphones of a conservative convention.
"They're going to talk about things that they are not really committed to ... leaders who don't have any influence in Washington," Clinton said.
Giuliani had a predictably different explanation. "We do want to demonstrate that we're a party of broad opinion," he said, "that we have accomplished what Ronald Reagan wanted us to do ... getting the votes of independents and lots of Democrats."
McCain, nothing if not candid, said the lineup is to get the Republican message out on TV, and not only for the moderating message.
"In a little straight talk, I think it's also a strong effort to keep people from punching the channel changer," he said.