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Reporters  Notebook:  Republican Party Rolls Out Own Version of  Star Power - 2004-09-01

The Republican Party rolled out its own version of star power at the second night of its 38th quadrennial convention. For the 4,500 delegates and alternates and a nationwide television audience, former action movie star and now Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered a speech that earned him rave reviews here. He was followed by the president's two daughters, Barbara and Jenna, who then introduced Mr. Bush via a TV link. The president's appearance was followed by the First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush.

Speaking at the convention, Governor Schwarzenegger didn't seem like a typical immigrant. He talked about arriving in the United States with virtually no money and no command of the English language. He recalled watching the 1968 presidential campaign, and getting a translation from a friend into German of what was being said. He listened to the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, and the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon. He asked in German what party Richard Nixon belonged to, and his translator said the Republican Party. "Then I'm a Republican, too," the future movie star and politician decided.

Arnold Schwarzenegger told the delegates that he didn't agree with them on every issue. Those were code words for his pro-choice stance on the issue of abortion, which the vast majority of the Republican Party opposes. Governor Schwarzenegger also is known to promote environmental policies, something that most American voters associate with the Democrats. In fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a social moderate and a fiscal conservative, a breed of Republican thought long gone but suddenly emerging from the political endangered species list.

Pair Governor Schwarzenegger with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who also is cut from the same political cloth, and you would be remiss in asking if something is going on in the Republican Party. It's true that opinion polls of the delegates here show they are much more conservative than even the rank and file voters of the Grand Old Party. The reverse was true of the Democratic delegates in Boston.

But for a party usually defined by its stance on abortion, the issue seems to rank low with the delegates here. They are more concerned with national security. Nevertheless, people are asking: could a moderate Republican like Rudolph Giuliani put together a coalition with social conservatives in the party with agreement on some issues but not others? That's what Governor Schwarzenegger hinted at in his speech. Given the speakers showcased by the Republican Party, it makes one wonder if moderates in the GOP are in the nascent stages of a comeback, providing they can make enough common ground and find the proper language to reach an accommodation with the party's social conservatives.

Cynics will say no and say that the party will remain as conservative as ever. But as they say, politics makes for strange bedfellows, and more than a few eyebrows are being raised at what may be going on inside New York's Madison Square Garden.

Reporters here are also keeping an eye on what is going outside Madison Square Garden. The anti-Republican demonstrations, which began as peaceful, are lately turning more violent. A policeman was assaulted and wound up in the hospital after a vicious attack by strident demonstrators. More demonstrations are planned and the scope and tone of the protests - and whether or not they increase in violence could impact the convention and the campaign.

Political observers were on the trail of what they called a verbal gaffe by the president. President Bush told an interviewer earlier in the week that the war on terrorism was not winnable. The Democratic Party immediately fired back, tweaking the campaign over the comment and the president's attempts to recover in subsequent speeches. The story turned into a veritable feast for political reporters starving for news-any news.

That story was then trumped by growing reports of discontent and turmoil in the camp of challenger Senator John Kerry of the Democratic Party. New staffers are being brought into the campaign, possibly in response to the way the Democratic nominee responded to veterans who challenged his Vietnam war credentials. A steady erosion in polling numbers for Senator Kerry nationally and in key states over the past two weeks led to the reports in the press and Internet blogs about the shakeup in the staff.

But the convention goes on building to its climax on Thursday night when President Bush accepts the nomination of his party. Republicans are feeling good - I wouldn't say confident - but they are feeling as if the tide is turning in their direction. Democrats in Boston last month were giddy, attempting to play down their confidence at their chances of prevailing in the November election. What a difference a couple of weeks can make.

But if that's true, then one wonders what differences the next couple of weeks will make, and the couple of weeks after that, and the couple of weeks after that? If the U.S. election campaign were a five-act play, Republicans are hoping this is Act IV where the conclusion is set up and the groundwork for the ending is established. Democrats are counting on the proposition that we're only in Act III with more twists and turns ahead and the ending of the drama far from certain.

There are less than 10 weeks to go before Election Day and with the conventions about to be behind us, the final acts will be played out. The conclusion is yet to be written and one can see several possible scenarios; the only people who know how it will come out are the American voters but they aren't quite ready to apply the finishing touches.