- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2000

George W. Bush, leading the most unified Republican Party in many years, is set to turn the tradition of nominating conventions on its head.

The Texas governor hopes to dispense with the prime-time roll call in which delegations from 50 states and five U.S. territories officially nominate the party's presidential candidate.

And instead of the customary first night of partisan, self-congratulatory speeches, Mr. Bush will put his wife, Laura, and Gen. Colin Powell in the spotlight to talk about the party's vision and future.

The second night of the convention, usually reserved for attacking the Democrats, will be equally upbeat, featuring Bush adviser Condoleezza Rice, former Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole and in the prime 10:30 p.m. slot Arizona Sen. John McCain, Mr. Bush's rival in the nomination contest.

In another major departure, the Republican vice presidential candidate will deliver the prime-time speech Wednesday night, and Mr. Bush will wind up the convention with his own acceptance speech Thursday night. Normally, the vice presidential and presidential nominees, in that order, both address the convention's closing night.

"Two of the television networks didn't even take [Jack] Kemp's acceptance speech at the 1996 convention," a Bush aide said privately, referring to Republican nominee Bob Dole's running mate four years ago. "So this time the veep will have his own prime-time slot on Wednesday."

Convention planners hope that putting the two most important speeches on consecutive nights will lend a touch of drama and anticipation and get the major television networks to pay attention.

The biggest departure, however, is from the traditional nomination roll call. The ritual "Mr. Chairman, the great state of … proudly casts all its ballots for the next president …" is beloved by political junkies.

In an age when primary voters decide the party nominee months before the convention, however, the roll call has lost whatever excitement it possessed in the old days of vote-swapping by state party bosses. The droning roll call has become a TV liability.

Instead, convention co-chairman Andrew Card said the convention committee is asking the national party's rules committee for a one-time change to allow for a "rolling" roll call of about a third of the states on three successive nights. It would begin Monday, July 31, and culminate Wednesday, Aug. 2, the next-to-last night of the convention.

"Normally the roll call takes up to two hours plus, but that's when we'd like to highlight our purpose and principles as a party," Mr. Card said.

One reason for all this convention reform with a purpose is that, according to Mr. Card, Mr. Bush will have a disadvantage against his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, who will be nominated two weeks later at the Democratic National Convention, Aug. 14-17, in Los Angeles.

"Normally, a presidential candidate gets bounce coming out of his nominating convention by unifying and solidifying his party," Mr. Card said.

"Gore doesn't have the 'problem' of an already unified party, and should be able to get momentum out of the Democratic convention," said Mr. Card, former White House deputy chief of staff and Transportation secretary during the administration of Mr. Bush's father.

Mr. Gore has yet to solidify his party's rank-and-file behind him. Polls show Mr. Bush has 95 percent of Republican voters' support while barely 80 percent of Democrats support Mr. Gore.

That difference is considered a plus for Mr. Bush, except when it comes to "bounce," as Mr. Card sees it. And to overcome the problem, the Texas governor is out to change nominating convention tradition in other ways.

Republicans perennially talk about reaching out to independents and disaffected Democrats. But Mr. Bush is determined to make it happen this time so much so that the convention being planned appears so positive in tone as to render "upbeat" an inadequate adjective. The convention theme is "Renewing America's Purpose Together."

Mr. Bush, who campaigned first as a "compassionate conservative" and later when battling Mr. McCain, an advocate of campaign finance reform as a "reformer with results," will use the convention to show himself as a new kind of candidate.

He is not planning, for example, to belittle Mr. Gore the way the elder Bush devastatingly characterized Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic candidate, as a "ACLU liberal." Instead, the younger Mr. Bush will contrast his world view with Mr. Gore's but do it with a smile.

"Ours will be a different kind of convention for a different kind of Republican," Mr. Card said. "We will be talking about things like education and Social Security, issues which have not been center stage at Republican conventions."

Rather than relentlessly hammering the Democrats, this convention will accentuate the positive in the belief that the Republican faithful don't need energizing so much as independents and anti-Clinton Democrats need assurances that they can comfortably vote for a Republican.

As he has from the beginning of his nomination campaign in June, Mr. Bush and other convention speakers will say the nation is hungry for a leadership that offers "real vision, clear direction, clear goals" and in a subtle dig at the scandal-ridden Clinton-Gore administration "clear moral authority."

"Governor Bush is more interested in attacking our country's problems than scoring points against political opponents," Mr. Card said.

Indeed, Mr. Bush will be joined onstage at the convention by leading Texas Democrats and ordinary Democrats from around the country who will say they like his bipartisan approach to solving problems.

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