Republican Convention features conservative platform, moderate message

PHILADELPHIA - Colin Powell extolled Texas Gov. George W. Bush as a man with a ''passion for inclusion,'' delivering an opening night affirmation Monday at a Republican convention meticulously scripted to appeal to voters in the political middle.

The Texas governor ''has been successful in bringing more minorities inside the tent by responding to their deepest needs,'' said the retired general in prepared remarks. ''He can do the same thing as president.''

Evening appearances by Powell and Bush's wife, Laura, capped a day in which the governor's name was placed in nomination without opposition. Republican delegates approved his campaign platform in a quick voice vote in the convention's only day session, rubber-stamping a document crafted to fit the nominee's self-described image as a ''compassionate conservative.''

Mrs. Bush stressed her husband's commitment to education in her prepared remarks. She said ''core principles will not change with the winds of polls or politics or fame or fortune or misfortune.''

The platform opposed abortion while reaching out to immigrants and minorities. It opposed gay rights, a gesture to social conservatives that was softened by the decision to give a prominent speaking role to the only openly gay GOP member of Congress.

The 37th Republican National Convention was taking place at the First Union Center, a sports arena that was transformed to an extravagant set for delegates and TV viewers alike.

Powell's selection as final speaker on the convention's opening night was designed to underscore Bush's move to the middle after he alienated some independent and moderate voters in his primary duel with Sen. John McCain.

The only black man ever to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell said Bush would ''bring to the White House the same passion for inclusion'' he has shown in Texas. ''I know he can help bridge our racial divides.''

In her remarks, Mrs. Bush referred to Bush's days as a partner in the Texas Rangers, ''I sat by his side during some winning and many losing baseball seasons,'' she said. ''But George never loses sight of home plate.''

The governor, on a campaign swing through battleground states, was penciled in for a convention cameo appearance by satellite hookup from Ohio.

Democrats sought to intrude on the GOP festivities. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa attacked Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, for not serving in the Vietnam War.

''Cheney said he had other priorities in the '60s,'' said Harkin, who served in the war. ''Well, la dee dah. So did a lot of other young men who went over there and didn't come back.'' Cheney, who served as secretary of defense, received five draft deferments during Vietnam, four as a student and one as a new father.

Bush's spokesman had a ready rejoinder. ''It's interesting that Harkin would discuss his feelings about Cheney and never say a word about (President) Clinton,'' said Ari Fleischer. The president did not serve in Vietnam, and his draft status was an intensely controversial issue in the 1992 campaign.

Powell's selection as the evening's featured speaker showed, said delegate Jose Alcatraz of Florida, that ''Republicans are diverse and tolerant - not just the classic white, rich guys with an attitude.''

Bush decided his platform would avoid a partisan drumbeat. The opposing party's presidential candidate, Vice President Al Gore, is mentioned but twice, compared with 153 unflattering references to President Clinton included in the 1996 GOP platform.

The GOP's four-day convention program showcased blacks, Latinos, former Democrats and - in its opening moments - a blind mountain climber who led the delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance. More than one opening-day speaker stressed Bush's determination to ''leave no child behind'' in modern-day America.

Bush campaigned for a second straight day in Ohio, en route to a midweek arrival in the convention city. He was to speak to the delegates by remote hookup during Monday's evening session.

Cheney paid a midday visit to the hall, prompting delegates to shout out, ''Cheney, Cheney.'' Earlier, he told a breakfast crowd the country needs Bush to ''clean things up in Washington,'' and he credited the Texas governor with bringing unity to the Republican Party.

Democrats began running new television advertisements in an effort to scuff up the GOP image. One criticizes Bush for his environmental record, another accuses him of holding down enrollment in Texas in a federal children's health program.

''You'll hear a lot about 'leave no child behind,''' the ad says. ''Meanwhile, back in Texas, George W. Bush opposed health coverage for 200,000 more children.''

The convention marked a key pivot point in Bush's bid to win the White House. The Texas governor secured his delegates by veering sharply to the right last winter when Arizona Sen. John McCain mounted a strong primary challenge. Nomination sealed, Bush swiftly tacked back toward the center, a political position his platform and his four-day convention were designed to hold.

''It is a vision of limited government,'' said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who presided over the platform drafting sessions.

It was also a balancing act.

Social conservatives, who have waged noisy battles at GOP conventions in the past, won language supporting an anti-abortion amendment to the Constitution.

But the platform dropped the party's one-time call to shut down the Education Department, and it abandoned a 1996 provision declaring that even legal immigrants should not turn to the government for social services.

''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,'' the platform says.

Bush often touts his ability to work across party lines in his home state. To buttress that claim, convention planners tapped Texas Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, a Democrat-turned-Republican, to place the governor's name in nomination. Perry told reporters that Bush was one of the Republicans who persuaded him to convert to the GOP in 1989.

''I proudly place the name of the current governor of the great state of Texas and the next president of the United States into nomination, George W. Bush,'' he said.

A cheer rose up in the hall where Cheney was joined in a VIP section by his wife Lynne and their daughters Mary and Elizabeth.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, directing the convention proceedings, said the roll call of the states would begin Monday night and go through Iowa, then continue on subsequent nights. Wyoming was expected to put Bush over the top on Wednesday with other states continuing on Thursday.

Fund raising, a staple of any political convention, continued without letup. Among the events: Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the deputy whip in the House, was host for a golf fund-raiser at a local course.

Police recorded their first arrests among demonstrators, 11 in all.


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