In presidential politics, it's axiomatic that sitting presidents
go into their conventions as known commodities. While challengers
can introduce themselves to voters, incumbents are already defined
in the eyes of the public, and have to defend their records.
Yet this week, Republicans are attempting in various ways to
tweak President Bush's image. They're not trying to redefine him,
they say, but to "reacquaint" voters with aspects of his personality
and governing style that they believe have been somewhat obscured by
the official trappings of the presidency.
In part, it's an attempt to revive a more genial, softer side of
the president and his party - one that may appeal more to moderates
and independents - by reminding voters of the candidate who ran in
2000 as a "compassionate conservative." It's also an attempt to
capitalize on Bush's "likability" advantage in polls over Sen. John
"The president is not just a great president - he's a good guy,"
said GOP chairman Ed Gillespie at a Monitor breakfast. The
convention will not only showcase Bush's strength as a leader, but
as a loving father, dedicated husband, and "someone who likes
baseball," Mr. Gillespie says.
Bush's strongest attributes have always been "his ability to
empathize," agrees Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot. "He's always
exuded humility, and an ability to work with other people." Although
voters came to know this side of Bush in 2000, Mr. Racicot says,
since then "I don't think there's been the same opportunity for him
to be engaged" with voters.
In keeping with this man-of-the-people style, Bush will deliver
his acceptance speech Thursday night not from a traditional onstage
podium, but in the round - from a platform in the middle of the
delegates. Although much of the week's focus will be on Bush's
leadership in the war on terror, advisers say he will place a strong
emphasis on domestic issues, too - talking about his record and
outlining new proposals on healthcare, education, Social Security,
and the economy.
Tuesday, the GOP is highlighting its "Compassion Across America"
initiative, with delegates and convention guests participating in
community service. Equally notable is the convention's supporting
cast: The roster of prime-time speakers - from former New York Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. John McCain Monday night, to California
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Tuesday night - come almost exclusively
from the moderate wing of the party.
This pivot to the center is notable in part because it represents
a break with Bush's overall campaign so far. Unlike most incumbents,
who typically spend the first part of their term tending their base
and then reach out to moderates during the campaign year, Bush has
seemed largely focused on conservatives all along - focusing in
recent months on issues such as a constitutional amendment to ban
gay marriage. With the electorate so polarized, and so few voters
undecided, Bush advisers have said that they believe the election
will be won not by appealing to the middle but by generating higher
turnout among core supporters.
Still, between the 8 to 10 percent of voters who remain
undecided, and the larger number of Kerry backers who say they might
be persuaded to switch sides, analysts say Bush can't afford to
write off the middle, either. …