Convention Notebook

Election 2004 -- The Republican Convention

September 01, 2004

Sound check

Laura Bush and her usually press-shy twin daughters caused a brief stir on the convention floor yesterday afternoon when they visited the stage at Madison Square Garden to check out the platform from which they would speak briefly last night.

Mrs. Bush checked the microphone and TelePrompTer by reciting the first lines of the Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent ..."

Laura Bush, a former teacher, trailed off, then, smiling down at the scrum of reporters who had gathered at the foot of the stage, assured them, "I know the rest."

After some whispered consultation with President Bush's adviser and friend Karen Hughes, up came Barbara and Jenna for their turn.

Jenna, rehearsing her public praise of her dad, seemed to credit him with the founding of the country: "Fourscore and seven years ago, our father brought forth on this continent, a new nation ..."

The twins indulged photographers by striking the briefest of poses with their mother on stage. After a few seconds, as Mrs. Bush smiled and waved, Barbara and Jenna turned their backs, apparently not quite ready for their close-up.

Ehrlich tees off on ... the links

Unabashedly addicted to the links, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says he's been trying to golf at least once a week this summer. Yesterday, he teed off with his wife on one of the most challenging courses in the country: the Black Course at Bethpage State Park on Long Island.

Tee times on the 9,000-yard course are "impossible to secure, especially for out-of-state residents," according to the Web site nygolfshuttle.com. The site was the host of the 2002 U.S. Open, with the tournament scheduled to return there in 2009.

But Ehrlich had a connection: The Republican Governors Association paid $100,000 to rent the public course for the day. Tickets were sold to corporate sponsors, who paid between $15,000 and $250,000 for a chance to swing clubs with some of the nation's most powerful politicians.

Ehrlich brought his wife along for the outing, and spokesman Greg Massoni said the first couple each scored a par on the 430-yard par-4 first hole. Massoni said he did not know who else played in the governor's foursome.

Mehlman takes a splash

Ken Mehlman, the Pikesville boy who grew up to become President Bush's campaign manager, found his name splashed across the front page of The New York Times yesterday. That kind of publicity isn't always a good thing for a political operative. It was only last week that the Times ran a Page 1 article that was so embarrassing to another high-level Bush campaign aide, outside counsel Benjamin Ginsberg, that before the day was out, he had quit the campaign.

In Mehlman's case, no resignation will be forthcoming, or necessary, though the article clearly wasn't designed to flatter the Bush aide and his former law firm, Akin, Gump, which sponsored a party in his honor.

Monday evening's "lavish" party "seemed to warrant a whole new event for political high-jumping" in the "political Olympics" that is this week's Republican convention, the Times reported. A campaign finance watchdog described the affair as "part of the influence peddling that goes on at the convention. ... Privately financed parties, and private parties, are used to cement relations with the administration."

Another reformer said that "honoring Ken Mehlman is strategically not a bad place to go" for a lobbying outfit like Akin, Gump, which, the paper said, "represents clients who are either beholden to Mr. Mehlman's present employer or would like to be."

Mehlman, who said he hadn't had time to read the article, said the party was "very nice" and "a lot of fun."

"I'll just say that one of the great things about Akin, Gump is that it's a place that upholds the highest standards of ethics, and one of the great things about the Bush campaign is that we do the same thing," said Mehlman, a Harvard Law School graduate who worked at the firm from 1991 to 1994.

"I'll make a major disclosure," the Bush aide said: "I'm a recovering lawyer."

Fare assessments

New York's cabdrivers face a conundrum: They would just as soon avoid the snarled traffic and street closures around Madison Square Garden. But then, that's where all the people in Manhattan seem to be this week.

The cabbies are taking different approaches. One cheerfully welcomed a reporter into his taxi and asked where he wanted to go. "Eighth Avenue and 34th Street."

That was not a popular choice. The driver swung his hand in a waving motion and said, "Can't get there."

When he looked forward and appeared ready to hit the accelerator, even though the back door was still wide open, the reporter decided it was his cue to climb out of the vehicle.

Another cabbie said he felt trapped between bad choices: Drive the emptier-than-usual streets on the Upper West Side, where he usually works, or venture to the convention zone in search of fares. He produced his log from the morning, when he was on the Upper West Side, and pointed to a mostly empty page.

"This would be full right now, usually," he said.

Sun staff writers Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Paul West, David Nitkin and David L. Greene contributed to this article.

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