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    REPUBLICANS MAKE LOVE, [. . . LOTS OF IT], NOT WAR

    BY David Reinhard
    08/02/2000
    by David Reinhard on 8/2/00.

    Can you feel the love tonight?

    The Republicans have created a vast prairie of niceness here in the City of Brotherly Love, and on this range that the GOP calls home this week there never is heard a discouraging [public] word.

    About Bill Clinton.

    Or Al Gore and the Democrats.

    The only real red meat you'll find at the First Union Center is the Philly cheese steaks. The Republicans have gone nice, lovey-dovey, positive, for pity's sakes. Last night, they even forswore their traditional Tuesday-night obliterate-the-opposition orgy for -- are you ready for this? -- a discussion of defense policy.

    Yes, all this positivity is in line with everything we know about George W. Bush's past approach to politics -- his unsuccessful 1978 congressional bid, his successful 1994 campaign against Texas Gov. Ann Richards, his bipartisan and consensus style as governor. Yes, this convention-week defanging has given this gathering an undeniable energy and fresh feel, even amid all the syrup and fuzz. And, yes, it's probably right where the American people are after too many years [decades?] of smash-mouth politics.

    As Bush spokesman Ken Lisaius told me Tuesday, "I think people are thirsting for a person that comes forward with solutions and just doesn't tear down his opponent."

    But are the Republicans here missing a chance to make the case for kicking Democrats out of the White House in a time of peace and prosperity? Are Republicans here squandering an opportunity to draw sharp distinctions between Al Gore and Bush or to set their ideas directly against the Democrats?

    You don't have to be a Lee Atwater acolyte to wonder or worry. This may be, as the phrase goes, "a different kind of convention for a different kind of candidate." But will it help produce a winning candidate -- or, more to the point, a winning candidate with a purpose? It's a fear some GOP political operatives entertain, a fear that's implicit in the conservative Weekly Standard 's recent editorial fretting about a content-lite convention.

    But is the fear justified? We'll only know for sure come November, but it doesn't seem to be bothering GOP delegates who care about winning and policy. "I think this should be about what we are as Republicans," says Keizer's Russ Walker of the Oregon delegation.

    "I don't think we should define who we are by our opponents. Nobody likes someone who talks bad about people all the time. I think there's a point when you have to do that, but it's better to stay positive." This from the state director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which cares deeply about conservative policies.

    Oregon Republican chairman Perry Atkinson explains the Philadelphia love-in this way: Passage of a conservative party platform and selection of conservative Dick Cheney as Bush's running mate have rallied the base. "There's no need to draw distinctive lines in the sand," he says.

    Exactly. Bush is now pulling in about 90 percent of all Republicans in the polls. [Bob Dole was in the low 80s in November 1996]. Gore's still trying to fire up his Democratic base, which means his forthcoming soiree is likely to make Los Angeles the very unCity of Brotherly Love.

    It's hard to get more conservative than Oregon delegate Jeff Grossman, but he 's utterly at peace with the Bush convention's peace-love-and-rock 'n' roll bonhomie. "They're not backing off their principles," the Hillsboro high-tech executive says.

    Imagine that, Republicans trying to win a campaign -- and being civil, too. Maybe this really is the City of Brotherly Love. David Reinhard, associate editor, can be reached at 503-221-8152 or by e-mail at davidreinhard@news.oregonian.com.