Arnold declares ‘America is back’

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NEW YORK — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, lending his Hollywood celebrity to the Republican National Convention, said last night that his rise from poor immigrant to movie star led him to embrace the values of the Republican Party and to get behind President Bush.

“Ladies and gentlemen, America is back — back from the attack on our homeland; back from the attack on our economy; back from the attack on our way of life,” he told nearly 5,000 cheering delegates and an audience of millions of television viewers.

Mr. Schwarzenegger ended his speech leading delegates, waving blue-and-white “Arnold” signs, in a chant of “four more years.”

“We’re back because of the perseverance, character and leadership of the 43rd president of the United States — George W. Bush,” he said.

Mr. Schwarzenegger was the star of the second day of a four-day show to rally the party and independent voters around Mr. Bush as the presidential campaign enters its final two months.

The Austrian-born actor filled his speech with self-deprecating and double-edged comic punch lines. The first words of his speech were: “What a greeting. This is like winning an Oscar. As if I would know.”

“To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don’t be economic girlie men,” he said at one point. The riff off a “Saturday Night Live” parody of his bodybuilder persona brought down the house.

But the speaker most beloved by the sea of conservative delegates was first lady Laura Bush, who closed the night with a speech that went beyond the usual recitation of personal stories about the president to tout his political leadership.

The candidate himself made his first appearance at the convention to the clamorous delight of the convention hall via a video linkup to introduce his wife from a campaign stop in Pennsylvania.

“I am so proud of the way George has led our country with strength and conviction,” Mrs. Bush said. “We are living in the midst of the most historic struggle my generation has ever known. The stakes are so high.

“So I want to talk about the issue that I believe is most important for my own daughters, for all our families, and for our future: George’s work to protect our country and defeat terror so that all children can grow up in a more peaceful world,” she said.

First daughters, Jenna and Barbara, spoke to the convention before their father introduced Mrs. Bush. The recent college graduates have been sheltered from press attention throughout Mr. Bush’s term, but have joined their parents on the campaign trail in recent weeks.

The night was also a political coming-out party for Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland.

The charismatic conservative attempted to convince blacks — about 90 percent of whom vote Democratic in presidential elections — that they could find a home in the Republican Party.

He told the story of his mother, a lifelong Democrat who raised two children on her own and refused to take public assistance, “because as she put it, she didn’t want the government raising her kids.”

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