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New York, N.Y. — Republicans belittled Democratic Sen. John Kerry as a shift-in-the-wind campaigner unworthy of the White House on Monday, opening their national convention four miles from Ground Zero of America's worst terrorist attack. "We need George Bush more than ever," said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
"We need a leader with the experience to make the tough decisions and the resolve to stick with them," added Arizona Sen. John McCain on a night that repeatedly stirred painful memories of the terrorist strike - and the president's response to the defining moment of his term.
Challenging critics of the commander in chief, McCain also called the invasion of Iraq "necessary, achievable and noble."
Giuliani's recalled the day the president stood atop a pile of rubble at Ground Zero and vowed to avenge the attacks. He likened Bush to Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill for holding fast to his convictions in the face of ridicule. "Some call it stubbornness. I call it principled leadership," he said.
Bush, he added, "sees world terrorism for the evil that it is," Giuliani said. "John Kerry has no such clear, precise and consistent vision." With polls showing Bush's leadership in the war on terror a political strength, a parade of speakers repeatedly used their turn at the podium to summon memories of Sept. 11, 2001.
Deena Burnett spoke of her phone conversations with her husband, Tom -- who was on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. She says he told her, "We're going to do something." Tom Burnett was a native of Bloomington, Minnesota.
In a prelude to the evening's political oratory, delegates ratified Bush's unflinchingly conservative re-election platform. It, too, lauded his response to the terrorist attacks, declaring, "The president's most solemn duty is to protect our country. George W. Bush has kept that charge."
Nearly half of the 90-page document focuses on anti-terrorism efforts in the U.S. and abroad. The platform supports the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's international policies. Chris Georgacas of Mahtomedi, one of two Minnesota delegates who served on the platform committee, says members made a conscious decision to emphasize national security.
"The war on terror is absolutely the dominant issue before the American people, it's also the issue that this election is going to likely most hinge on," Georgacus said.
And, as Republicans well know, it's an issue that defines President Bush's presidency. Republicans this week are walking a fine line; trying to avoid using the hole in the ground just a few miles from the convention site as a political prop, while conveying to voters that the fight against the people who put it there is what the election is all about. Recent polls in Minnesota and elsewhere give Bush high marks for his anti-terrorism strategy, but show many people think Democrat John Kerry would do a better job of handling the economy.
Economic issues get second billing in the GOP platform, which backs permanent tax cuts and limited government spending. The document supports the No Child Left Behind federal education law. And the platform concludes with social issues, reaffirming the party's stance against legalized abortion and advocating a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. It also talks about stem cell research for the first time in the party's history.
Platform committee member Annette Meeks of Minneapolis says the committee was guided by chairman Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader and physician.
"We based our decisions on sound science, which endorses what the president announced in August of 2001. Which said there are very interesting and hopeful prospects with adult stem cell research that we want to use government funds to produce those results" she said.
The platform opposes the use of government money for embryonic stem cell research, despite the call by former first lady Nancy Reagan for lifting restrictions on the research.
Many Minnesota delegates say they strongly agree with the platform. Chris Johnson of Janesville says he sides with President Bush on stem cell research, abortion, and a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
"In an ideal world, this issue would be left to states to decide, but the problem is the activist courts that could easily strike down state laws prohibiting gay marriage, and so until the courts are fixed, I think we absolutely need a constitutional amendment," he said.
The platform also opposes civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. That's an issue where Minneapolis delegate Sarah Janecek parts company with her colleagues.
"I support existing law, and I'm against putting it on the constitution - as a constitutional ballot question. I support the ability of gays and lesbians to go get a certificate saying that they are a relationship."
Janecek, who is also a political analyst and lobbyist, acknowledges that she's more moderate than most members of the Minnesota delegation. But she believes the party is a big tent that has room for different views. The platform says Republicans, quote, "welcome into our ranks all who may hold differing positions".
Many Democrats disagree, and say Republicans put on a moderate face only during election time to woo undecided voters. Democratic New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton called the party's political showcase, a "bait-and-switch campaign", something Republicans will try to counter this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report