NEW YORK – "Welcome to the capital of the world," America's mayor greeted delegates and guests at the Republican National Convention (search) in New York City Monday night.
Rudy Giuliani (search), the former mayor of the city hardest hit by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, devoted his speech to praising the leadership of President Bush, who he said led the country through the difficult days that followed the attacks and the better ones since.
"This is the first Republican convention ever held in New York City. It makes a statement that New York City and America are open for business and stronger than ever," he said.
Giuliani, who gave the closing speech on the first night of the GOP rally in Manhattan, took his time unfolding his support for the president, whom he credited with making the world safer and giving America hope during times of great challenges.
Giuliani noted that Bush stood amid the fallen towers of the World Trade Center days after the attacks and offered words of encouragement to not just the rescue workers in the rubble, but also to all Americans: "They will hear from us."
"They have heard from us. They heard from us in Afghanistan and we removed the Taliban. They heard from us in Iraq and we ended Saddam Hussein's reign of terror. …So long as George Bush is president, is there any doubt they will continue to hear from us until we defeat global terrorism?" Giuliani asked. "We owe that much and more to those loved ones and heroes we lost on Sept. 11."
Giuliani's speech came three hours after House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce gaveled in the night's events before a video introduction of the week's most notable speakers. The video — modeled after the opening of the hit comedy show, "Saturday Night Live," in which the show's opening credits are plastered on New York City billboards and elsewhere — launched a long night and lots of laughs for convention-goers.
Moderates and independents were key targets for Monday's message, which had the theme, "A Nation of Courage."
"He has been tested and has risen to the most important challenge of our time, and I salute him," Arizona Sen. John McCain (search) said. "I salute his determination to make this world a better, safer, freer place. He has not wavered. He has not flinched from the hard choices. He will not yield. And neither will we."
The major component of Monday night's theme was the idea that America didn't ask for war but the country couldn't sit by and do nothing in response to Sept. 11.
"We didn't ask for this war, but faced with an evil whose only mission is to destroy our country ... we had to respond," said former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik (search). "We had to fight this war abroad. And we had to fight the war here at home. ... Today, we live in a much safer world as a result of this president's strong leadership," Kerik said.
McCain stressed that both America and its commander in chief have a responsibility to see the current wars to their end.
"No American alive today will ever forget what happened on the morning of Sept. 11. That day was the moment when the hinge of history swung toward a new era," McCain said.
"Our enemies have made clear the danger they pose to our security and to the very essence of our culture ... liberty," the former Vietnam POW continued. "Only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war. Like all wars, this one will have its ups and downs. But we must fight. We must."
Taking a respectful jab at the Democrats — particularly presidential candidate John Kerry, although McCain didn't mention him by name — the Arizona senator said the defense of freedom "is always our first responsibility."
"We must not lose sight of that as we debate who among us should bear the greatest responsibility for keeping us safe and free," McCain said. "We must, whatever our disagreements, stick together in this great challenge of our time … I don't doubt the sincerity of my Democratic friends. And they should not doubt ours. Our president will work with all nations willing to help us defeat this scourge that afflicts us all."
But neither Giuliani nor McCain promised a swift fight.
"The War on Terrorism will not be won in a single battle. There will be no dramatic surrender. There will be no crumbling of a massive wall," Giuliani said. "But we will know it. We'll know it as accountable governments continue to develop in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. We'll know it as terrorist attacks throughout the world decrease and then end. And then, God willing, we'll all be able on a future anniversary of Sept. 11."
But what brought the house down was McCain's reference to film director Michael Moore, who wrote and produced "Fahrenheit 9/11," an excoriating look at the Bush administration, and has been one of Tinseltown's most vocal Bush critics.
"Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war. It was between war and a graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not our critics abroad. Not our political opponents.
"And certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children held inside their walls."
As McCain made reference to Moore, the audience turned toward the director, who was in the convention hall. Moore smiled as convention-goers loudly booed him and chanted "four more years."
To get a rise out of the delegates, McCain smiled as he repeated the words: "disingenuous filmmaker."
But even as Republicans extolled the president's virtues, a new poll released Monday by Zogby International found that 49.3 percent of New York City residents and 41 percent of New York state residents believe that some leaders "knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around Sept. 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act." The poll taken last week of 808 New York state residents had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
Win and Bolt
Delegates officially submitted the names of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney Monday for nomination to second terms. An alphabetical state-by-state roll call — which will be spread out over several nights — began, though only some states will cast their delegate votes.
Cheney stopped by Madison Square Garden, the center of the week's activities, to see his name put forward. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, were introduced to the convention upon their arrival around 8:35 p.m. EDT.
The candidate needs a majority of the 2,509 delegates in attendance to be nominated. Bush and Cheney are likely to receive the official nominations by Wednesday night at the latest.
The president won't arrive until 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 president's parents, former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara, made their entrance into the Bush's convention box around 8:50 p.m. EDT. Also in attendance were Bush twins Barbara and Jenna Bush, the president's nephew, George P. Bush, and others.
'We Will Never Forget'
The convention launched under extremely tight security, with a helicopter hovering overhead and thousands of police posted at barricades.
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.
Inside Madison Square Garden Monday night, delegates psyched themselves up for the week's events to music, including a montage of Broadway-type show tunes. The evening closed with a taped rendition of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York." The entire Texas delegation was dressed in long-sleeved blue button-up shirts and cowboy hats.
Texas delegates had well-situated seats near the stage, but the Florida and Ohio delegates had the much-coveted positions of directly in front of the stage. Florida was the location of the 2000 election controversy between Al Gore and Bush, and both parties are hoping to avoid a repeat of that ballot-counting snafu; Ohio is a vital battleground state this year.
Other speakers appearing Monday night included House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) of Illinois, actor Ron Silver, athlete Jason Seahorn and his actress wife Angie Harmon.
"We will never forget, we will never forgive, we will never excuse," Silver said in reference to the Sept. 11 attacks, receiving a thunderous round of applause and cheers from convention-goers waving red, white and blue signs that read "We Salute Our Troops."
Pointing out that many in his own entertainment community are usually the first ones to oppose any use of force to take care of these "horrors," Silver added, "this is a war waged against us. This is a war to which we had to respond … the president is doing exactly the right thing. That is why we need this president at this time."
Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress (search) and native of Iraq, thanked Bush and the United States for getting rid of Saddam Hussein and liberating Iraq from the former dictator's clutches.
"Yes, there is still bloodshed and uncertainty — but America, under the strong, compassionate leadership of President Bush, has given Iraqis the most precious gift any nation has ever given another — the gift of democracy and the freedom to determine its own future," Al-Suwaij said. "As Iraqis assume full sovereignty, they embrace the American people in friendship and gratitude. I promise you: we will never forget what your sons and daughters did for us."
For its part, the Democratic National Committee on Monday highlighted its contention that Bush has failed to make America safer with a new television ad and a veterans event at Grant's Tomb in New York City.
"Our action in Iraq was a military success, but the lack of a plan for the aftermath was a catastrophic failure," Ret. U.S. General and former Air Force Chief of Staff Tony McPeak said at the veterans event. "I am a life-long Republican, but I am supporting John Kerry this year because I know his lifetime of strength and service will make him a capable commander in chief, and his strategy for winning the peace will make America safer and more secure."
The DNC also unveiled a new 15-second television ad entitled "Mission Not Accomplished: Iraq" which stresses what it calls Bush's "go it alone foreign policy and its cost to the American people." The ad will run in New York until Thursday.