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Inside Politics

GOP convention colored by 9/11

Bush presidency defined by terrorist attacks

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

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Location: New York's Madison Square Garden, seats up to 19,763

Estimated attendees: 50,000

• Estimated budget: $91 million, according to NYC Host Committee 2004

• Delegates: 2,509 (2,344 alternates)

• Estimated volunteers: 15,000

• Hotel rooms used: 18,000+ in more than 40 hotels
Who would benefit more from violent anti-Bush protests at the Republican National Convention?
September 11, 2001
Acts of terror
George W. Bush
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- At first blush, New York City might seem like an odd choice for the Republican National Convention.

The Big Apple is, after all, a staunchly liberal city, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 5-to-1.

The last time a Republican presidential contender captured the city vote was more than four decades ago, when Dwight Eisenhower won a second term in 1956. (Special report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)

But New York City has, in one key respect, defined the presidency of George W. Bush more than any other locale. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, set the nation on a course to war, and the haunting image for many people from that day is the collapse of the World Trade Center twin towers.

In ways both large and small, the events of September 11 color this convention, just as they have left their imprint on the Bush presidency.

"This convention is all about 9/11," said CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider. "That's why it's in New York."

The Republican Party has never explicitly acknowledged that its choice of New York City was tied to September 11, but the city has never before served as a host for a GOP nominating convention.

And this convention is one of the latest ever on the political calendar, adjourning less than a week before the third anniversary of the attacks.

"Terrorism is why they're in New York and why they're doing it at the beginning of September," said Stephen Hess, a government scholar at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank in Washington. "It's not very subtle."

The convention kicks off Monday, and one of the featured speakers that night will be former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, widely hailed for his calm and reassuring stewardship of the city in the months after the attacks.

Giuliani, a Republican, campaigned with Bush in the weeks leading up to the convention, a reminder of the two men's partnership in the aftermath of the attacks.

A tribute to September 11 heroes and those who lost loved ones that day is also planned at the convention.

The GOP goal, Schneider said, is to remind voters of the respect and goodwill Bush enjoyed in the year after the attacks -- but before the Iraq war.

"At this convention, he will be the 9/11 president," Schneider said.

"It is George Bush from September 2001 to September 2002. For one year, he was above politics. The country was behind him, and the world was behind him."

Indeed, Bush soared in the polls in the months after September 11. Many analysts believe he found his voice as president during that time, rallying the country with his stark and impassioned declarations to stand firm against terrorism.

Before September 11, Bush's presidency was marked mostly by skirmishes with congressional Democrats over tax cuts and his education proposals. He came into the White House bruised by an unprecedented post-Election Day battle, in which he lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College after the U.S. Supreme Court closed the door to Democrat Al Gore's bid for a recount in Florida.

Bush has not been shy about reminding people about one memorable day in his presidency: his trek September 14, 2001, to the rubble of the World Trade Center, where he stood with his arm draped over one firefighter and vowed to make terrorists "hear all of us soon."

He recounted that day in a recent interview with CNN's Larry King.

"That was a hard moment," Bush said.

Republicans are sensitive to the suggestion that they are using the events of September 11 for political gain. They faced that charge this past spring when the Bush campaign began running television ads that included images of the devastation from the attacks. Some victims' families, firefighters and Democrats criticized the ads as exploitative and insensitive.

The Bush campaign countered that the ads only highlighted Bush's leadership during a national tragedy.

A spokesman for the Republican convention declined to talk in detail about what impact September 11 would have on the Republican gathering.

"I wouldn't really say there's a goal," said Leonardo Alcivar, an RNC spokesman. "I'd have to let the convention play out and let people say what role 9/11 plays."

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