Wednesday, September 1, 2004

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.”

Mr. Steele said the self-reliance that she taught him made him who he is.

“She once asked me how I could become such a strong Republican. I simply replied ‘Mom, you raised me well,’” Mr. Steele said.

Education Secretary Rod Paige also appealed to black voters last night, delivering a typically fiery speech praising the president’s education program as battling the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

“We can either build on these achievements — or return to the days of excuses and indifference,” he said.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s surprise rise last year to the California governor’s mansion catapulted him from one of the few movie stars who call themselves Republicans to a man whom the party hopes can push independent voters and casual viewers of the political scene into the Bush camp.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s support of homosexual “marriage,” gun control and abortion puts him firmly in the liberal minority of the party, but he said he nonetheless feels comfortable among the mostly conservative delegates because of the party’s diverse ideological history.

And his message was tailored to recent immigrants — especially Hispanics — who tend to vote Democrat.

“I’m proud to belong to the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, the party of Ronald Reagan, and the party of George W. Bush,” he said. “To my fellow immigrants listening tonight, I want you to know how welcome you are in this party. We Republicans admire your ambition. We encourage your dreams. We believe in your future.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger, who has been cool to appearing with Mr. Bush on trips to California, fully embraced the candidate last night and dismissed any ideological differences between the two.

In urging immigrants to join the Republicans, he noted that even if “you don’t agree with this party on every single issue,” people can “respectfully disagree and still be patriotic — still be American — and still be good Republicans.”

He told immigrants how to know they were Republicans by going on a tear of lines with the rhetorical trope: “If you believe … then you are a Republican.”

His speech was interrupted numerous times for loud applause, none louder than when he used that trope to mock the importance that the Democrats give to the United Nations.

“If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope of democracy in the world, then you are a Republican,” he shouted.

Mrs. Bush’s speech delved into the traditional role of first ladies, touching on her relationship with her husband to advance the campaign’s proclaimed attempt to convince voters that Mr. Bush is a “good guy.”

She told of seeing him out the window pacing on the lawn as he contemplated troop movements in Iraq and relayed stories of their driving together in an old car on his first campaign.

Her speech was an obvious contrast to the Democratic convention in Boston in July, when Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke about her life story and her husband’s agenda and life on the campaign trail, but not much about their life together as a married couple.

“Tonight, I want to try and answer the question that I believe many people would ask me if we sat down for a cup of coffee or ran into each other at the store: ‘You know him better than anyone. You’ve seen things no one else has seen. Why do you think we should re-elect your husband as president?’” she said.

But she also delved deeply into policy, defending her husband’s execution of the war on terror. She told the audience that her husband is leading the country in a historic struggle that past generations of Americans would understand.

“Our parents’ generation confronted tyranny and liberated millions,” she said. “As we do the hard work of confronting today’s threat, we can also be proud that 50 million more men, women and children live in freedom today thanks to the United States of America and our allies.”

Conservatives, largely absent from the prime-time speaking lineup, got some face time last night. Besides Mr. Steele, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas spoke, but focused entirely on the president’s $15 billion program to battle AIDS in Africa, rather than on such hot-button issues as abortion and homosexual “marriage.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee spoke about the president’s Medicare prescription-drug program, which has angered many supporters of the president because of its high costs.

Mr. Frist did, however, give conservatives reason to cheer by defending Mr. Bush’s decision to withhold federal funding from future embryonic stem-cell research.

A surgeon, Mr. Frist affirmed what many pro-life advocates long have insisted — that the destruction of an embryo for research takes a human life.

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