NEW YORK – After launching scathing attacks on John Kerry (search) and declaring President Bush the only candidate who can lead America in the War on Terror, Republicans kicked off the last day of their 38th convention.
The commander in chief will be the main event Thursday night at Madison Square Garden (search) in New York City.
"Optimistic," "future-oriented" and "visionary," Bush's longtime adviser Karen Hughes said when asked for adjectives to describe the president's 40-minute-plus speech, during which he will formally accept his party's nomination for a second term as president.
Joined by his parents, Bush and his wife Laura attended a late-morning service at a Park Avenue church before dropping by the Garden to survey the stage from which he will deliver his speech.
"I proudly accept," he intoned from the podium during a sound check, then joked with journalists: "My fellow members of the press corps, especially cameramen, tax relief is on the way. Don't spend it all in one place."
Meanwhile, about 100 anti-Bush demonstrators staged a quick, loud and well-organized protest at Grand Central Terminal during Thursday's rush hour, unfurling banners and colorful balloons that called on the president to do more in the fight against AIDS. Nineteen people were arrested after they refused police orders to leave.
Convention-related arrests for the week number more than 1,700, far surpassing those made in much more violent circumstances at Chicago's 1968 Democratic convention.
A day after his excoriating criticism of Bush's Democratic contender for the White House at the Republican convention, Vice President Dick Cheney (search) portrayed his boss as a decisive commander in chief.
"He doesn't waffle, he doesn't agonize," Cheney said Thursday at a breakfast with Ohio delegates.
"That's exactly what we need in a president. We don't need indecision or confusion," the vice president added, echoing his Wednesday-night remarks.
No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. Bush carried the state narrowly in 2000, but polls show it to be a dead heat this year.
Bush arrived in the Big Apple Wednesday evening under heavy security for a meeting with firefighters, making the connection to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and subsequent fight against terrorism that has defined his presidency.
He was unanimously chosen as the party's official nominee on Wednesday, and will take center stage on the last night of the four-day rally to accept the nomination and energize supporters as well as undecided voters. He will be introduced by New York Gov. George Pataki (search).
The theme of Thursday's events will be "A Safer World, a More Hopeful America"; it follows three days of party loyalists focusing on Bush's achievements in the fight against terrorism, as well as domestic issues like education.
The president planned to use his convention address to encourage Americans to keep him on the job and to offer himself as a resolute wartime commander in chief with ambitious plans for a second term. His speech will touch off a two-month dash to the finish line in a nation that seems as closely divided now as it was four years ago.
Bush, who arrived in this fortified convention city at the end of a three-day, six-state campaign dash, will talk up his record and sketch the domestic agenda he would pursue if re-elected, a goal that eluded his father. He'll also talk — sometimes in personal terms, his advisers said — about how the terrorist attacks altered him and the world.
"Government must change with the changing world to make people's lives easier — to give people a chance to be able to realize the full promise of tomorrow," Bush told thousands of cheering supporters at a campaign rally Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio.
The speech will also offer an agenda that includes initiatives to simplify the tax code and help people buy homes, start businesses, hone job skills and set up tax-free retirement and health care accounts, aides said.
The convention has been filled with slaps against Kerry, Bush's Democratic opponent. Kerry, a Massachusetts senator for 20 years, has been called a "flip-flopper" on issues ranging from the war to the No Child Left Behind Education Act (search).
But the Democratic Party isn't taking the criticism sitting down.
In advance of Bush's prime-time convention speech, former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and former Social Security Administrator Ken Apfel will hold a conference call Thursday at 12:30 p.m. EDT to preview what the Democrats call "the old ideas, failed ideas and bad ideas" that Bush is expected to talk about.
"The choice in this election is clear: between a president with a record of false promises and economic hardship for middle-class families, and a leader who can be trusted to fight for middle class families who need good paying jobs and affordable health care," the Kerry-Edwards campaign said in a statement Wednesday night.
In addition, in an attempt to slow Bush's convention momentum, the Kerry campaign will launch a seven-state advertising blitz Friday in Ohio, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin as the first installment of a $50 million, 20-state fall ad buy.
The campaign will air new ads that seek to shift the focus of the campaign to the economy. In the ads, Kerry pledges to "stand up for the middle class" and suggests that Bush "sides with the special interests."
Cheney: 'America Sees Two John Kerrys'
Moments in history arrive where fundamental decisions must be made on how to keep the American people secure, Cheney said Wednesday night, and the nation has reached one of those defining moments.
"Under President Bush we have put in place new policies and created new institutions to defend America, to stop terrorist violence at its source and to help move the Middle East away from old hatreds and resentments and toward the lasting peace that only freedom can bring," Cheney told delegates during his prime-time speech after accepting his party's nomination.
The vice president's speech was marked at times by forceful declarations and glowing praise of Bush, at times by sarcastic witticisms aimed at Kerry.
"Senator Kerry says he sees two Americas," Cheney said, referring to one of the Kerry-Edwards campaign slogans. "It makes the whole thing mutual. America sees two John Kerrys."
Cheney said Kerry has spoken both for and against the No Child Left Behind Act, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Patriot Act. In response, the audience chanted "flip-flop, flop-flip," and some waved actual flip-flops in the air.
"This is the work not of months, but of years, and keeping these commitments is essential to our future security. For that reason, ladies and gentlemen, the election of 2004 is one of the most important, not just in our lives but in our history."
Cheney and Democratic Sen. Zell Miller (search) of Georgia — who gave another rousing speech for former President Clinton when he was running against Bush's father in 1992 —launched a double-barreled attack against Kerry.
The senator from Massachusetts, they argued, has flip-flopped on issues like the wars against terrorism and in Iraq and can't seem to stick to his policy decisions.
"For more than 20 years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure," said Miller, the convention's keynote speaker. "This is the man who wants to be the commander in chief of our U.S. armed forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?"
Kerry, vacationing on Nantucket island in Massachusetts, was asked whether he took some blows from the speeches.
"I don't think so," he said.
Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, made the round of morning talk shows Thursday to defend the ticket. He said the "over the top" GOP attacks distorted Kerry's record and made him mad.
"What we heard from the Republicans in that hall last night was an enormous amount of anger," Edwards said on CBS. "If you got up and went to the refrigerator, you wouldn't have missed any discussion of what they're going to do about health care, what they're going to do about jobs, what they plan to do about this mess in Iraq."
Cheney on Wednesday said Bush will work to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, adding that the president will not falter in going after terrorists — or nations that harbor them — so long as it's in the interest of the American people.
"Sept. 11, 2001, made clear the challenges we face … Just as surely as the Nazis during World War II and the Soviet communists during the Cold War, the enemy we face today is bent on our destruction," the vice president said. "If the killers of Sept. 11 thought we had lost the will to defend our freedom, they did not know America — and they did not know George W. Bush."
The Kerry camp argues that the Bush administration should have rounded up a larger international coalition before going into Iraq. The vice president mocked the idea.
"The president has made very clear, there is a difference between leading a coalition of many, and submitting to the objections of a few," Cheney told the audience. "George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people."
Miller: Kerry Offers a 'Yes, No, Maybe Bowl of Mush'
Miller said party politics have gotten so dirty, they've obscured the path toward leading a successful war against terrorism, and Democrats are to mostly to blame.
"While young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief," Miller said during his keynote address.
"Like you, I ask which leader it is today that has the vision, the willpower and, yes, the backbone to best protect my family? The clear answer to that question has placed me in this hall with you tonight. For my family is more important than my party."
Miller, who in 1992 was selected by Bill Clinton to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, said today's Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator.
Democrats, Miller claimed, "don't believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy."
Records and the 'Land of Opportunity'
Day three's convention theme was "Land of Opportunity." Small business owners took the podium, giving testimonials about how Bush's economic policies have helped their fledgling companies.
Michael Reagan, who introduced a video tribute to his father, thanked everyone who supported his family after the late president's death.
"He believed America was placed between the oceans to be a beacon of freedom for the world, a place where man was not beholden to government, government was beholden to man," Michael Reagan said of his father. "Throughout his life, his belief in the American people never wavered."