Bush steps into the spotlight
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Despite a solid first three days, the likely impact of the Republican National Convention will not be determined until President Bush's speech Thursday night.
Almost every major speaker has addressed the war on terror and sought to portray the president's decision to go to war in Iraq as a necessary step in that fight. (Special report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)
But from Sen. John McCain to Vice President Dick Cheney, no one has aggressively and at length defended the president's economic record. (Cheney, accepting party's nod, hails Bush's actions)
Nor have they laid out even a detailed outline of a second-term Bush agenda.
The president will hit Sen. John Kerry hard, especially on the war on terror. (Kerry vows U.S. will win war on terror)
In that way he's adopting the approach taken by his father, George H.W. Bush, when he challenged the last Democratic nominee from Massachusetts in 1988, drawing character as well as policy distinctions.
The younger Bush will stay away from domestic policies that anger either moderates or conservatives.
For moderates, he will generally shy away from abortion; for conservatives, he won't focus as much on immigration reform and deficit spending.
Bush will try to rev up the conservative base by talking up tax cuts and his religious faith. He will try to appeal to moderates with new proposals on job retraining, health care and education.
Will he discuss gay marriage, a hot-button issue that will be on ballots in several key swing states? Probably only a bit.
Like his father, Bush will try to tag his opponent with the liberal label, while criticizing Kerry as taking contradictory stands on key issues.
Significantly, few major newspapers have carried prominently strong Democratic retorts to GOP claims made in New York in the same way Republican criticisms regularly landed in swing-state publications during July's Democratic convention in Boston, Massachusetts.
However, even if the Kerry campaign's "rapid response" team does not break through by Friday, the president may be forced to share the spotlight in that morning's papers with protests, which may reach their peak Thursday.
Thursday night, of course, also marks the Republican convention's crescendo. While Democrats often criticize Bush as ill-informed and narrow-minded, the president will likely give a solid speech that is well received by the general public.
But it's not likely to convince all voters fully.
Whatever happens Thursday, this campaign still has a way to go.
The debates and news -- starting with the release of a new unemployment report Friday morning, which could either point to an improving or a sagging economy -- are likely to loom large in the days ahead.