- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Immigration and homosexual “marriage” are shaping up to be the most contentious issues facing Republican platform writers in the weeks before the party’s national convention, convention officials said.

Just as Sen. John Kerry’s campaign kept the Democrats’ platform negotiations low profile in order to convey a message of party unity during the Democratic convention, the Bush campaign seeks to project an image of consensus at its convention, which begins Aug. 30 in New York.

Also as the Kerry campaign did, the president’s team is managing the work of the platform committee from behind the scenes.

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“Obviously, immigration is one of the issues we’ll be discussing,” said platform spokeswoman Ginny Wolfe.

Asked whether there was an effort to keep immigration and same-sex “marriage” off the committee’s plate, she said, “Historically, our platform delegates always have spirited debates, but I’m not going to predict what they’re going to be about this time.”

However, one Republican who is close to the platform process but asked not to be identified said Bush representatives working with the platform writers “will try to prevent extremism in language on gay rights by some evangelical groups and on immigration by some of our conservatives.”

And referring to Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, he added: “Obviously, there will be more of a fight on Tom’s issue.”

Mr. Tancredo has led efforts in Congress to strengthen enforcement of immigration laws and has publicly opposed President Bush’s plan — announced in January — to grant “guest-worker” status to some illegal immigrants.

Several Republicans associated with the platform-committee activities who requested anonymity described an effort by the Bush forces to head off any language that might seem “unwelcoming” to immigrants or intolerant of homosexuals.

These Republicans also said members of the platform committee will meet in New York Aug. 24 and 25 — less than a week before the convention — to discuss and adopt the platform. The platform work must be completed by the time the Republican National Committee has its meeting on Aug. 26 and 27. The platform adopted by the committee then will be formally adopted the next week by the full convention.

Religious conservatives generally are pleased with the president’s opposition to expanded embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex “marriage” and his support for the ban on partial-birth abortions.

“We expect them to keep the same pro-life language that has been in the platform since 1984,” said Phyllis Schlafly, chairman of Republicans for Life, who said she also would defend the party’s current position on marriage. “We have a very good marriage plank in [the platform] now. It’s fine with me as it is — our position on the platform is: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Bob Dole, the party’s 1996 presidential nominee, tried to get the platform writers to remove or soften the strong pro-life plank, but he backed down after Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois threatened to resign as platform committee chairman, which would have crated a public brawl over the issue.

This time, the party is not expected to try to change the anti-abortion plank. Bush campaign strategists are relying on religious conservatives to vote in larger numbers than in 2000, when an estimated 4 million evangelicals failed to turn out.

Bush strategists have arranged to have three pro-life Republicans head the platform committee — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Pennsylvania Rep. Melissa A. Hart. But although they are solidly pro-life, all three are closer to Mr. Bush’s position on immigration than to Mr. Tancredo’s.

Ann Stone, chairman of Republicans for Choice, said her group still will push its agenda at the convention.

“The Bush people have slowed down the whole platform selection process this time because they figure the longer they delay in putting things together, the less controversy there will be,” Mrs. Stone said.

But, she warned, “It doesn’t matter how long they delay. The opposition is still going to be there.”

Convention planners have scheduled a lineup of what Mrs. Schlafly called “aggressively pro-abortion speakers.” That lineup of pro-choice speakers includes New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New York Gov. George E. Pataki, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Republican National Committee Finance Director Lewis M. Eisenberg and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“If the White House is smart, it won’t rock the boat and will tell its New York friends and Schwarzenegger that we don’t want any controversy and to leave the platform as it is,” Mrs. Schlafly said.

“I’m ready for battle,” she added. “I’ve battled the pro-aborts every time, and I’m ready to do it again. There are times when it has been a knock-down, drag-out battle.”

Mr. Tancredo says he is also ready for battle and is determined to present his proposed immigration plank to the platform committee for debate.

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