NEW YORK - More than 100,000 protesters took to the streets yesterday in angry but peaceful opposition to President Bush and the war in Iraq, on the eve of a Republican convention at which Bush hopes to convince undecided voters that he deserves a second term.
With American flag-draped mock coffins and signs bearing anti-Bush slogans, marchers clogged Manhattan's Seventh Avenue and overflowed onto side streets. Lining those streets were scores of police and security personnel - some in riot gear - girding for protest-related violence in a city already on high alert for a terrorist attack during the convention.
"No more years!" protesters shouted as they passed Madison Square Garden, site of the four-day Republican pep rally that opens here today against a backdrop evoking memories of Sept. 11 and the president's response to it.
On Ellis Island, a few hundred Republican supporters chanted the more traditional "Four more years!" as Vice President Dick Cheney launched the week's Sept. 11-themed appeals.
Terrorists "attacked our nation, and they wish to do us further harm," Cheney said in front of Manhattan's skyline, now devoid of the two soaring towers of the World Trade Center. "It is from them that we must protect our children, our country and our future."
Bush, he said, "is exactly the leader we need for these times, and we need him for four more years."
Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani promised that throughout the week, Americans would "remember the support that President Bush and Vice President Cheney gave us through those terrible and difficult days."
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pronounced yesterday's protests, during which about 130 people were arrested, as "peaceful." Organizers had hoped to demonstrate in Central Park, a privilege that was denied them by city officials and judges who said the event could ruin the grass.
Michael Moore, maker of the anti-Bush documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, said the protests showed that "the majority of this country opposes the war. The majority never voted for the Bush administration, and the majority are here to say, `It's time to have our country back in our hands.'"
Democrats bused dozens of anti-Bush volunteers from battleground states into Manhattan, where they held a news conference at City Hall to criticize Bush and promote his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
The Bush push
With polls showing Bush in a virtual deadlock with Kerry - and lagging behind in some key states - the president sets out this week to try to shift the tide in his favor. Bush is stepping up his defense of his record and asserting that he needs a second term to fulfill his goals.
As he campaigns his way toward New York, the president is spending more time explaining his decision to invade Iraq, conceding in several interviews that he misjudged the aftermath of the U.S. invasion and the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein.
"Had we had to do it over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success - being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day," Bush said in an interview in the latest issue of Time magazine.
In a city whose terrorist tragedy sent the president's approval ratings into the stratosphere, Bush is determined to reclaim some of the luster that polls show has largely worn off.
A centrist face
He will try to do this, in part, by projecting a centrist, all-inclusive face that Republicans hope can draw support among independent voters. To that end, party strategists have lined up a stream of moderate Republicans who enjoy popularity far beyond Bush's conservative base to take the stage at Madison Square Garden to vouch for the president.
The convention, just miles from Ground Zero, offers an opportunity for Bush to try to rekindle the emotions people felt after the Sept. 11 attacks, making the case that he has been a steady leader who has been willing to make the tough decisions necessary to defeat the nation's enemies and make America safer.
Midtown Manhattan and the area around major landmarks here were thick with police officers, Secret Service agents and camouflage-clad National Guard members - signs of the intensive security effort being mounted by federal, state and local authorities to guard against a terrorist attack.
Still, despite fears of a terrorist incident or protest-related violence, the convention that begins today has been meticulously staged to produce rousing television images and the picture of a party united behind Bush. It will offer few surprises.