GOP decides what it stands for, and against

PHILADELPHIA - Shoving aside abortion disagreements, Republicans approved a platform Monday that pledges to fix education, help the needy and yet advance the party's core belief in limited government.

After presiding over a sometimes rocky process of settling on principles for the election, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson told the party's convention: ''There's so much more that unites us than divides us.''

But patching over the divisions was hard work, he suggested in an interview later. ''I feel like I have 300 pounds of weight lifted off my shoulders,'' he said.

Candidate George W. Bush pushed conservatives further than they wanted to go in making the platform embrace a vigorous role for the federal government in education, in welcoming immigrants and in pursuing nuclear arms cuts.

''It's his party now,'' said conservative activist Gary Bauer, an early dropout in the GOP nomination race. ''It's his platform.''

Abortion-rights Republicans fell short, both in trying to include a minority report and in gathering enough support to bring the issue to the convention floor.

The religious right - unchallenged by Bush - easily succeeded in keeping the party on record in favor of eliminating abortion rights.

In a modest gesture to abortion-rights supporters, Thompson put their failed amendments in an appendix to the platform, as the party did in 1996.

Even that step upset some abortion opponents, one of whom said she was removed from a meeting Monday when she complained to Thompson.

''I think it was done behind our back,'' said Cheryl Williams, an Oklahoma delegate and platform writer. ''I think Tommy Thompson needs to remember that he's not king.''

But Republicans who favor abortion rights wanted more.

''I think it's important for the future of our party and the strength of our ticket to modify this language in order to attract broader support,'' said Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who wanted the issue debated on the floor.

Ann Stone of Republicans for Choice said the Bush campaign privately persuaded delegates to let the issue die so the party could have a united convention.

''We were a freight train that ran into a very solid brick wall called the Bush campaign,'' she said.

Social conservatives also succeeded in toughening the party's position against gay rights.

On the other hand, the platform reflects Bush's outreach to people who have not felt comfortable in the party.

The document's preamble states: ''To all Americans, particularly immigrants and minorities, we send a clear message: This is the party of freedom and progress, and it is your home.''

About 83 percent of Republican delegates are white, compared with about 68 percent of Democratic delegates.

Putting in policy words some of the nuts and bolts of Bush's mantra on ''compassionate conservatism,'' the platform sets a goal of ''clear direction, new ideas, civility in public life, and leadership with honor and distinction.''

Delegates ratified the platform as one of the first orders of business at the convention that will hand Bush the presidential nomination.

Determined to set a hopeful and self-defining tone, the party wrote a document that steers away from attacks on Democratic candidate Al Gore and showcases Bush.

In contrast, the 1996 GOP platform mentioned President Clinton 153 times, seeming to spend as much time going after him as promoting candidate Bob Dole.

Candidates are not obliged to run on the platform, a document written by party activists with behind-the-scenes pressure from party and campaign leaders. But it serves as a test of their control of the party.

Bush's education principles, a cornerstone of his campaign, were slightly watered down by conservatives who want Washington out of the nation's schools.

''You never get 100 percent,'' said Ari Fleischer, Bush's spokesman.

Also, a reference to the need for a ''strong federal role in environmental protection'' was taken out.

Some of what Bush lost in the text, he got back in the platform's preamble.

''Under his leadership, the Republican Party commits itself to bold reforms in education - to make every school a place of learning and achievement for every child,'' it says.

''We will preserve local control of public schools, while demanding high standards and accountability for results.''

The preamble goes on to say: ''For every American there must be a ladder of opportunity, and for those most in need, a safety net of care.''


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