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Bush defends Cheney as convention buildup starts
PHILADELPHIA, July 27 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush defended his running mate Dick Cheney Thursday as delegates, reporters and protesters converged on Philadelphia for next week's Republican National Convention.
A new USA Today/CNN Gallup poll showed Bush getting a bounce from his selection of the former defence secretary and jumping back into a 11 percentage point lead over Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate.
The poll of 632 likely voters, taken July 25-26 after Bush's selection of Cheney, showed the Texas governor leading Gore 50-39 percent. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader scored 4 percent and Reform Party hopeful Pat Buchanan 1 point. The margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points.
A week ago, Bush was only two points ahead of Gore in the Gallup poll. Another poll, by the Pew Research Centre, taken before the selection of Cheney but issued Thursday, showed Bush leading Gore 48-46 percent.
Candidates traditionally reap a 5-15 percent bounce from their convention, but Bush's bounce was materialising before the event even started.
Bush took time out from writing the speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination that he will deliver next Thursday to defend his choice for vice president.
Bush and his aides appeared surprised at the speed with which Cheney, who compiled a highly conservative voting record while representing Wyoming in the House of Representatives, has come under attack from Gore supporters.
Referring to Cheney's Pentagon service during the 1991 Gulf War under his father, former President George Bush, the Texas governor said:
"Secretary Cheney brought people together and helped win a war which stands in stark contrast to Vice President Gore who tends to divide people to create political war."
"They're doing their level best to tear people down but they're not going to succeed," he added.
Gore himself began a vacation but his supporters gleefully zeroed on some of Cheney's votes, especially his votes against banning plastic guns and so-called "cop killer" bullets.
"As somebody who has spent 20 years fighting for gun control, I have to say there was not a single name mentioned as a possible vice presidential choice who had such a history of hostility toward gun control as Dick Cheney," said New York Sen. Charles Schumer.
FORMER WAR HEROES
In Philadelphia, Republicans released a programme for the four-day convention beginning next Monday, headlined by a hard-hitting team of former war heroes, including retired Gen. Colin Powell and Gulf War commander Norman Schwarzkopf. The burly general known as "Stormin' Norman" will address delegates live by satellite from the deck of the USS New Jersey.
Top Republicans were already in town for a meeting of the party's national committee and its platform committee, which is writing the formal policy positions on which Bush will seek the presidency in the Nov. 7 election.
As Philadelphia began filling with visitors, the city presented its best face on a drizzly, unseasonably cool day. All the central streets were decked in U.S. flags and bunting and welcome signs abounded in the "City of Brotherly Love," also known as a Democratic and labour-union stronghold.
Thousands of protesters were expected in town to use the gathering as a soapbox from which to attack globalization, free trade deals that they believe hurt the environment and degrade workers' rights to shine a spotlight on a political system they say is swollen with corruption fuelled by corporate money.
The California-based Ruckus Society and other groups, whose protests effectively wrecked the 1999 World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle and disrupted a World Bank meeting earlier this year in Washington, was training its supporters for civil disobedience and mass arrests.
Large protests expected
Organisers hoped this year's Republican forum could draw the largest protests seen at a presidential convention, topping Vietnam-era demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and the 1972 Republican convention in Miami Beach, which organisers say had as many as 15,000 protesters each.
With 15,000 journalists among 45,000 people expected in town, the convention offered protesters a golden opportunity. Many of the guests will spend much of their time not so much listening to speeches but attending an almost endless round of lavish parties, receptions and cultural events.
Television networks drastically cut their coverage of this year's convention, saying it was shaping up as a largely predictable, highly stage-managed event with little or no real news. But they were prepared to swing into action if activities on the streets turned violent.
Bush was anxious to avoid a fight on the convention floor on abortion and his aides cut the traditional four-day-long platform committee deliberations to a day and a half.
The party was to issue a draft platform late on Thursday, including a reiteration of its hardline stance on abortion that seeks the passage of a constitutional amendment declaring that life begins at conception and that all abortions should be outlawed.
It was due to discuss the platform on Friday and complete it on Saturday. Abortion rights supporters hoped to introduce amendments but seemed unlikely to succeed.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Thursday, July 27, 2000
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