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GOP's message: Niceness wins

Republicans open their convention Monday, aiming to show unity and Reaganesque optimism.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 28, 2000



WASHINGTON

On the eve of the 2000 Republican National Convention, the electricity in the voice of party activists is palpable: This is their year. The divisions of the past have been muted. They want the White House back. Badly. And when the Republicans convene in Philadelphia on Monday, they know their four-day confab is the party's first, best shot at showing the public - and most important, undecided and independent voters - that this is a new and improved Republican Party.

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The speakers' list is chock-full of women, minorities, and "real people." The traditional "attack Democrats night" is out. Some of the old faces associated with divisiveness, even meanness, have been nudged off the stage or left office, such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Conservative populist Pat Buchanan has left the party altogether, removing from the GOP stage one of the party's most articulate and controversial figures.

"It's a lot easier to have harmony and unity if some people don't come to the party," says John Green, a political analyst at the University of Akron in Ohio. He says that George W. Bush - the affable Texas governor who will formally accept his party's presidential nomination next Thursday night has "done a pretty good job of portraying himself in a good light. The Republicans need to do the same thing in the convention that Bush has been doing in the campaign."

The trick for the Republicans will be to stage a feel-good convention that people actually want to watch, either on television or the Web. They have planned, essentially, a plot-free event - Governor Bush has already announced his running mate - and yet they want people to tune in anyway.

Further complicating their task, most Americans don't even know the convention is next week. The latest poll out of Harvard's Vanishing Voter project shows that 74 percent of the public is unaware of the convention's timing.

Year of contentment

Americans are a relatively contented lot this year. The danger, both during the convention and on election day, Nov. 7, is not that white males will be angry: It's that they'll go fishing.

The Democrats face the same challenge when they convene in Los Angeles on Aug. 14. The Republicans, at least, have a few rock stars in their midst: Gen. Colin Powell will address the convention on Monday night, and Sen. John McCain will speak on Tuesday.

Senator McCain's presence at the convention, and at the alternative "shadow convention" running simultaneously, may provide a little spark of news, as the politically minded watch to see how he behaves. McCain, after all, threatened to knock out Bush, the establishment's anointed one, during the primaries. He's known for speaking his mind, and he has broadly hinted at running for president in 2004 if Bush loses in November.

Bush's acceptance speech on Thursday night may also lure one of his biggest audiences of the campaign, as viewers tune in for a glimpse of the man who may be the next president. By convention time, voters are beginning to solidify their choices.

The Texas governor, and all the other players in this carefully scripted week, will be walking a fine political line: They need to show that they're the new and improved Republican Party, while honoring and building on the past, say Republicans.