Republicans tonight formally nominated both Gov. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to be his running mate. Also, Cheney delivered the prime-time address.
By Brian Hartman and Carter M. Yang ABCNEWS.com PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 2
— Republicans formally picked Dick Cheney tonight as their vice-presidential nominee as the former Defense secretary fired some shots from the podium at the Democrats after a week of feel-good GOP speeches about inclusivity.
Cheney delivered a prime-time address to the party’s convention tonight boasting of his vast experience serving under past presidents, while touting this year’s GOP presidential candidate, George W. Bush, as a man with the “courage and vision” to become the next one.
“I have been in the company of leaders. I know what it takes,” Cheney said in a flat, serious tone. “And I see in our nominee the qualities of mind and spirit our nation needs, and our history demands.”
But Cheney also made the only harsh comments on President Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore yet uttered on the stage at this convention, a show that has otherwise featured speaker after speaker riffing on Bush’s positive “compassionate conservative” themes.
“What are we to make of the past eight years,” Cheney asked. “I look at them and see opportunities squandered. The wheel has turned. And it is time. It is time for them to go.”
What Cheney lacked in emotion, the crowd made up for in spades, as Republicans confounded by Clinton and Gore for eight years responded with sustained applause and a chant of “Time to go.”
On two levels, the remarks were a poke at Gore, who used the same refrain — “It’s time for them to go” — in his own 1992 Democratic National Convention speech.
Prayers for Ford
With little suspense, votes from Wyoming’s delegation had put Bush and Cheney over the top needed to officially accept the nomination — 1,034 votes — after delegates delivered a series of often humorous regional speeches from state representatives.
While Republicans gathered in the City of Brotherly Love to rally around Cheney, his time to shine was overshadowed somewhat by concern for former President Gerald Ford, who is recovering from a stroke. Bush spoke to former first lady Betty Ford today via telephone, wishing her husband “a speedy recovery.”
“I told her … Laura and I and the Cheneys send our love and prayers,” Bush said. “And she sounded very hopeful and very optimistic.” House Speaker Dennis Hastert gaveled tonight’s session open by asking “all Americans” to keep the former president in their prayers.
But with doctors giving Ford a promising prognosis, the show went on.
Tonight’s address marks the biggest speech Cheney will deliver so far in his political life, and some Republicans are watching anxiously to see whether he can spice up a naturally flat speaking style to deliver a captivating address. The stakes are high, as Democrats — who no longer have a Republican lightning rod like House Speaker Newt Gingrich to kick around any more — have spent the past week trying to demonize Cheney as far too conservative for mainstream voters.
Though recent polls show that some of the Democratic criticism may have sticking power, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said the strategy would ultimately fail.
“By attempting to portray him like that,” Bennett said, “Democrats are simply demonstrating that the real Clinton legacy is smash-mouth politics.”
Animated delegates from Wyoming, a state Cheney represented for a decade, waved cowbells, hopped and hooted as they anxiously awaited Cheney’s speech.
“It’s an especially great night for us,” said Marv Emrich, a 67-year-old alternate delegate from Casper, Wyo. “He’s a very dedicated person.”
Wrestling With Apathy
The parade of speakers aimed at winning over independents and Democrats continued tonight, starting with an unusual pitch to young voters from The Rock, a flamboyant professional wrestler.
“Now let me get this straight, you invited the Rock, the World Wrestling Federation champion, to speak at the Republican National Convention. Well, the Rock says this: ‘What’s the matter with you people,’ ” he said.
Some critics asked the same thing, complaining that the ultra-violent world of pro wrestling runs counter to the sort of examples the Republican Party wants to set for children. But the wrestler suggested in a rather tongue-in-cheek way tonight that his strong appeal to young people could be used to help lure young voters into the party.
“If the Rock didn’t know any better, he’d say you might be trying to reach out to all the Rock’s fans — 14 million eligible voters,” he said.
At the least, The Rock represents one of the “diverse” faces the GOP has sought to trot onto the national stage to represent its commitment to “inclusiveness” — the popular wrestler is from American Samoa.
Before the lights went up in the hall, Bush walked onstage, stood at the podium and practiced for the big speech he will deliver after accepting the presidential nomination Thursday night.
“If I do my job tomorrow,” Bush said, “It’ll be really just speaking to friends.”