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Playing to the base

RNC Day 3 will have dual focus: Criticizing Kerry, boosting Bush

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Carlos Watson reports on the GOP convention at its midpoint.
Day Three: Wednesday

Theme: 'A Land of Opportunity'

7 to 11:15 p.m. ET: Speakers include Rick Santorum, Mitch McConnell, Elaine Chao, Mitt Romney, Zell Miller, Lynne and Dick Cheney

Highlight: A tribute to Ronald Reagan

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Having spent two days trying to reach undecided voters, Republicans on Wednesday night will focus on revving up the base.

A lineup led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Zell Miller will add so-called values issues to Monday's focus on national security and Tuesday's emphasis on domestic issues.

Republicans still will likely walk a fine line on values, careful not to alienate middle-of-the-road swing voters even as they appeal to their conservative supporters. But the night's speakers will hit taxes and national security hard.

Despite criticism from Democrats and low approval numbers, Cheney has been warmly received by delegates on the convention's first two nights. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)

Like many vice presidential candidates in the past -- such as Republican Dan Quayle, under President Bush's father in 1988 and 1992, and Al Gore, President Clinton's running mate in 1992 and 1996 -- Cheney will be charged with drawing important distinctions with the opposition.

Indeed, while Sen. John McCain of Arizona, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and first lady Laura Bush largely refrained from criticizing Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, Cheney will -- on both the domestic and national security fronts.

Significantly, a Democrat will join Cheney both in making the case for Bush and against Kerry.

Twelve years after giving a Democratic convention keynote address as the governor of Georgia, Miller returns to Madison Square Garden to deliver another prime-time speech at the Republican convention -- this time as a Democratic senator who has turned away from his party and in full support of the president.

Miller likely will focus on national security, much as McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani did Monday. But the biggest goal of having Miller is to appeal to the conservative Democrats who helped Bush score upsets in Tennessee and West Virginia in 2000.

Like the convention's first two days, Wednesday night's speakers will refer to history. Both Democrats and Republicans believe that this will be a distinctive election, a la 1980 and 1932 -- featuring big issues and big differences between the two parties.

With all this said, Wednesday (like Monday and Tuesday) is unlikely to persuade voters in any major way. Rather, Bush's speech Thursday is likely to be the decisive factor.

Ironically, the election's most significant speech Wednesday might not even be made in Madison Square Garden. Kerry's speech to an American Legion convention in Tennessee is likely to be critical.

The Democratic senator hopes to slow some of Bush's momentum. Indeed, it's arguable that if he does not do so and the president gives a great speech Thursday, Kerry's speech may be looked upon as a critical turning point in this election.

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