National security takes center stage
McCain, Giuliani lead charge in different ways
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Energized by recent polls and Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry's difficulty in controlling the agenda, the Bush-Cheney campaign sought to build on its momentum and determined to put national security front and center on the Republican National Convention's first day.
While Democrats pounced on President Bush's recent comment on the war on terror -- and whether or not it could be won -- Republicans seized the initiative in a good opening to their convention.
There was no morning platform fight on gay marriage or abortion, as some in the GOP feared, and later progress was made on two of their three key goals. (Special report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)
Part of that strategy was to make terrorism the dominant issue. Recent polls show the war on terror, the Iraq war and economy all fairly even -- in the low 20 percent range -- as the top issue among voters.
By week's end, the Bush-Cheney team hopes that voters will clearly highlight terrorism as the single most important issue. That's because terrorism has been the president's strongest issue, according to polls, and he's had a steady and strong lead over Kerry.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona led the effort, two moderate Republicans who the president needs to reach out to undecided voters. They tried to reframe the president's war on Iraq and, on the other hand, make terrorism the dominant issue in this campaign.
The two speeches were notable for their differences. Both did have one thing in common -- in that they were focused on 2008 as much as 2004. McCain burnished his image as a crossover candidate, while Giuliani tried to convince the party's conservative base.
McCain was the more concise and philosophical, providing a broad defense of the Iraq war. He didn't go negative, failing to mention Kerry by name in stressing a unified, nonpartisan message.
McCain's biggest contribution was to reframe the war in Iraq as not having been a choice between attacking Saddam Hussein and doing nothing but rather as a necessary decision to prevent the world from becoming more dangerous.
Meanwhile, Giuliani was the Republican's cleanup hitter. He spoke longer -- almost twice as long as McCain -- and much more casually than the senator, and sometimes in a humorous way.
In general, Giuliani was much more unabashedly pro-Bush, attacking Kerry in a seven-minute segment of his speech and even saluting Vice President Dick Cheney.
He spent very little time defending the war in Iraq, instead devoting the bulk of his time to his personal remembrances of September 11. Giuliani recalled the president's speech at Ground Zero and touted Bush's resolve as a leader.
September 11, in fact, was a focus all night. The Republicans would have gotten criticism no matter how they addressed the topic. The key comments came from victims' families and Giuliani, an ex-mayor with high approval ratings. So everyone who spoke about it was able to do so personally.
By focusing so clearly on national security, the Republicans left it to Tuesday's speakers and the president the task of talking about domestic issues -- especially the economy and the second-term agenda.