New York, 27 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Republican Party next week will formally nominate President George W. Bush to serve four more years, in a city bracing for demonstrations and alert for terrorism.
The party's convention in New York will be carefully choreographed, like the meeting of the opposition Democratic Party last month in Boston. Delegates will officially select Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as candidates for re-election on 2 November.
"New York more than ever symbolizes America to the world. The whole world will be watching this convention, and I think the protesters will behave themselves."
The party has scheduled speeches from popular members such as Senator John McCain, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, concluding with Bush's address on 2 September. Through the four days of the convention, speakers are expected to note New York's central role in the 11 September terrorist attacks and Bush's tough response.
Bush and Democratic Party challenger John Kerry are locked in a very close race, according to the latest polls. Opposition to the war in Iraq and Bush's response to terrorist threats are among the issues which have driven a large wedge between Republican and Democratic voters.
For that reason, the conventions may not make much of a difference this year, says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
"President Bush had polarized the electorate. You were either for Bush and therefore going to vote for his re-election, or you were against Bush and automatically, in the vast majority of cases, going to vote for the Democratic candidate. So there's very little left to play with in the conventions. You have maybe -- maybe -- 5 to 7 percent [of the electorate] truly undecided," Sabato says.
Demonstrations will be one unpredictable element. New York City has issued permits for about 30 rallies that will block streets or use amplified sound equipment. They range from small prayer vigils to an anti-war rally expected to attract 250,000 marchers on 29 August to the center of the city.
Political expert Sabato tells RFE/RL that the three Bush-Kerry debates, starting next month, will be more significant than the conventions. But he says the president still needs to deliver an effective speech on 2 September.
"What Bush really has to do is two-fold. He has to defend his record intensely and energetically, and he has to present a second-term agenda that makes sense. He needs to do both things. He can't just do one and not the other," Sabato says.
David Frum is a former speechwriter for Bush and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy center. He tells RFE/RL that the convention will provide Bush with an opportunity to display his strengths and score points against Kerry.
Frum says Bush can portray himself as a leader who has responded resolutely to unexpected circumstances.
"Who would have thought four years ago that the past four years would look [this way], and I think that's going to be very vivid in people's minds. So President Bush is going to show the convention and the country again the kind of person he is and why -- in such an unpredictable world -- he is the man you want making the decisions," Frum says.
The Republicans are holding their first convention ever in New York, a city which traditionally supports Democrats. Any Republicans voted to office there, including the current mayor and governor, are usually more liberal or moderate than regular party members.
Frum says the party's decision to hold the convention in New York was inevitable after the 11 September attacks. More than 2,600 people died after terrorists slammed two passenger jets into the two towers of the World Trade Center.
The city, Frum says, holds enormous symbolic meaning for Americans and is also a "fantastic" venue for a convention.
"New York more than ever symbolizes America to the world. The whole world will be watching this convention, and I think the protesters will behave themselves. I think the world will see that, look, this is what democracy means. There will be protesters," Frum says.
A New York state judge has rejected a request by an antiwar group to hold a rally in the city's Central Park, saying the gathering could damage lawns in the park. Organizers of the rally, who expect to draw 250,000 people, say they will march past the convention site on 29 August and then let demonstrators decide for themselves whether they wish to rally in the park.