Column: Get ready for the liberal spin on convention

The party of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney begins its quadrennial convention next week in the City of Brotherly Love. Not since its 1984 convention in Dallas, when Ronald Reagan was renominated for the presidency, has the GOP been so stoked about its prospects of winning the White House.

But the Republican faithful ought not get too giddy about Philly. For Bush and Cheney can hardly expect a grand coronation.

That's because the 4,132 Republican delegates (and alternates) will be vastly outnumbered by members of the media (more than 90 percent of whom are Democratic sympathizers who have every intention of voting for Al Gore in November).

So, much of what the American public reads and hears about the four-day convention will come from the perspective of reporters and correspondents and analysts and commentators who have a built-in political bias against the Grand Old Party.

That bias will be reflected in convention "story lines" that cast a less-than-favorable light upon Bush and Cheney; that really border on deliberate misrepresentation of political reality.

Such as:

-- The suggestion that the race between Bush-Cheney and Gore-Yet-To-Be-Determined has become a "dead heat."

This story line is attributable, in part, to the fact that political reporters prefer to cover closely contested presidential races rather than blowouts.

But it is also attributable to optimistic spin put on selected polls by analysts partial to Gore, who, consciously or not, are doing their part to keep the Democratic faithful from losing heart in their presidential candidate.

But the reality is that Bush continues to enjoy the modest lead in the polls that he has had since shortly after the presidential primaries.

Indeed, the latest CBS News/New York Times poll shows the Texas governor leading the vice president by a margin of 46 percent to 40 percent.

The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll shows the Republican ahead by 49 percent to 45 percent (and 49 percent to 41 percent when Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan are included in the survey).

But the gap between Bush and Gore is even wider when looking at state-by-state poll numbers, which is a far better indicator of how the presidential race is shaping up.

In the most recent electoral college poll by the Rasmussen polling organization, Bush was ahead in states boasting 310 electoral votes compared to 140 for Gore.

What bodes particularly ill for Gore is that he trails his Republican opponent in a half-dozen states -- Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington -- that went Democratic the past two presidential elections.

-- The implication that John McCain and his primary supporters are not united behind Bush.

McCain was the media's Republican darling. Not because they really wanted the Arizona senator to become president, but because they thought he could do sufficient damage to Bush to make the Republican front-runner easier pickings for their preferred candidate, Gore.

When Bush prevailed over McCain, the media would not let the rivalry go away, as they did with Gore and Bill Bradley. Instead, they continued to give the vanquished McCain more coverage than any presidential also-ran in recent memory. Now the punditocracy is speculating that McCain will challenge Bush, somehow, at the party's convention, revealing that the party has not truly united behind its presidential nominee.

But McCain has made his peace with Bush and will throw his full support behind his party's standard-bearer.

"Many years ago, the governor's father fought for our country with distinction, under the command of my grandfather. Now it is my time to serve under the son of my grandfather's subordinate," says McCain, in a draft of the speech he is slated to deliver on the second night of the convention.

-- The accusation that Bush and Cheney are out of step with mainstream Americans on a range of issues.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll revealed that on the 17 issues the American public rated most important, they supported Bush over Gore by a margin of nine to three (with five a toss up). Yet, in Philly next week, we can expect much of the coverage to focus on issues on which Republicans appear to be vulnerable, including abortion, gun control, gay rights and campaign-finance reform.

But the reality is, none of these is really a losing issue for the GOP ticket.

For one thing, none of those selected issues rates among the top 10 in importance to the American people, according to the poll. For another, while a plurality of Americans may part ways with Bush and Cheney on these issues, the Republican ticket also enjoys substantial support for its positions.

On abortion, for instance, 39 percent in a recent CBS News/New York Times poll say it should be available, but under stricter limits. Another 22 percent say it should not be permitted at all. These figures shoot down the myth that the majority of Americans favor abortion-on-demand, with no restrictions whatsoever.

It's the same thing with gun control. The prevailing myth is that the public wants a president who will restrict gun ownership and use. Yet, the ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that the public trusts Bush over Gore to handle the gun issue.

These are the realities of the presidential race that will hardly be mentioned during coverage of the GOP convention. For the very last thing that the Democratic-biased political media want to do is contribute to a Bush-Cheney convention bounce that the Democratic ticket will find impossible to overcome.

(Joseph Perkins is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.)


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