Mention of 9/11 a delicate task

Bush: The GOP strives for sensitivity while promoting the president's response to the attacks.

Ground Zero

Election 2004

The Republican Convention

August 31, 2004|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK -- As he strolled proudly into Madison Square Garden last night, wearing a platter-sized Bush-Cheney campaign button that said "Everything is bigger in Texas," Wayne Turner said there is one image he is hoping not to see during the Republican convention this week: the one of President Bush standing at Ground Zero with a bullhorn days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I hope they don't show that video," said Turner, a 67-year-old alternate delegate from Waxahachie, Texas. "There is a risk the media will pick up on that and say we're just using 9/11."

Turner's wife, Debbie, politely disagreed with her husband. She said that as Bush spoke from the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center, he was speaking on behalf of the country in vowing to avenge the attacks. As a president trying to persuade Americans to support him, he and his party should remind voters this week of the memorable moments that show Bush as a strong leader.

"The attacks are a defining issue on people's minds," Debbie Turner said. "You don't sweep something like that under the rug."

As they opened their convention last night, Republicans began a delicate task: Talking a lot about some of the president's finest hours -- his soothing of the country after the attacks and his bold launching of a campaign against terrorism, a time when his approval ratings soared to 90 percent -- but doing so without appearing to exploit tragedy.

On the streets of Manhattan, a handful of New Yorkers said they felt Republicans have already used Sept. 11 to boost the president politically, and they expected much more of the same all week.

"They should talk about it, but they're talking about what [Bush] did personally, instead of what we all did," said Omar Higgins, a 22-year-old from Brooklyn. "In New York, we don't appreciate it."

Polls show the president's handling of terrorism remains his strongest suit, and even as more voters say they trust Democrat John Kerry over Bush to handle issues like Iraq, the economy and education, a greater number of Americans say they would want Bush in office if the country is attacked again.

The president's campaign chairman, former Montana Gov. Mark Racicot, said Bush's poll numbers have fallen since Sept. 11 in part because "as human beings, we tend to forget pain."

He said Republicans would remind the country of the attacks. But Racicot added that the party has come here "because of our affection and respect for the people of New York. It is a sign of respect and reverence for all of those who suffered here."

A recent poll of family members of Sept. 11 victims by The New York Times showed opinions of Bush and his party seemed mixed. About half said they wished the GOP had chosen another city for their convention. About a quarter said the party picked the city "to capitalize on Sept. 11," while a quarter also said the Republicans wanted to "support the city" and "show it's safe."

Meanwhile, of the respondents, who split evenly between Democrat and Republican, more than three-fourths said images of Ground Zero should not be used in campaign commercials (as Bush has done). A majority said, however, that the president should visit Ground Zero while in town.

Andrew Wendt, a 30-year-old schoolteacher who is running for the state house in Michigan and is a Republican delegate, said Democrats talked about Sept. 11 at their convention and his party will do the same.

"Our president's agenda changed on Sept 11," Wendt said. "People need to know why President Bush changed how he governs and has gone in the direction he has gone."

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