Bush convention speech: Delegates see no risk for McCain

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 2, 2008 

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Despite concerns that George Bush's satetllite address to the Republican national Convention Tuesday night might hurt John McCain's presidential campaign by reminding voters that the two men come from the same political party, delegates here say they don't think voters will have any trouble telling the two men apart.

"It's important that he speak to the party, to say his final words and to pass the baton to John McCain," said Tim Johnson, chairman of the Buncombe County Republicans of North Carolina.

It's a traditional farewell for the outgoing president, but comes as the country is reeling from seven years of war, a sinking economy and surging federal spending. Bush's approval ratings are below 30 percent.

The satellite feed is just one more example of how McCain must walk the balancing act of showing loyalty to the two-term Republican president while still offering himself up as someone very different.

"There's an acknowledged disapproval rating, so he doesn't want to tie himself too closely," said Jim Lee, a delegate and real estate developer from Clayton. "But on the other hand, I think McCain will have the backbone to stand up where he thinks Bush was right."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who himself ran an outsider campaign, said McCain should have no problem defining himself.

"I think John McCain's already been very clear that he's his own person," Huckabee said. "He doesn't have to differentiate himself from anybody because he is different from anybody."

McCain's alignment with Bush has become a central issue in the campaign. The presumptive GOP nominee knows it. McCain aired ads this summer calling himself "the original maverick" and telling viewers that "we're worse off than we were four years ago."

Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign has worked hard to call a McCain presidency four more years of Bush. Every day this week, N.C. delegates' buses, en route to the Xcel Center, pass a strategically placed interstate billboard showing Bush and McCain embracing.

That embrace is the last sort of image McCain wants, said Joe Morgan, a former professor from Marshall.

"He will not be seen with the president so as not be seen in the negative images of the public," Morgan predicted. "He'll stay away from him physically and more important, he'll stay away because he'll have different ideas."

Those differences, delegates said, are what voters really will see in McCain -- who, they point out, has tangled with Bush before.

"John McCain is his own man," said Art Pope of Raleigh. "He had a very vigorous primary with George Bush eight years ago."

Bill Peaslee of Raleigh, the former N.C. GOP chief of staff, pointed out that many delegates at the convention are irked at the Bush administration's high-spending ways. He thinks many Americans are too, but that they won't be wrongly influenced by Bush's appearance Tuesday.

"The average American voter is savvy enough to realize there are differenced between President Bush and John McCain on policy issues," Peaslee said.

Giving the sitting president a chance to speak is just basic courtesy, said North Carolina GOP Chairwoman Linda Daves. "Whatever the approval ratings are, that's an American tradition. You show respect to the commander-in chief."

Larry Sellers of Denver agreed, despite his disappointment with Bush's presidency. "I want him to go," he said. "But I want to hear him. Even if Clinton, who I despise, was speaking, I'd want to hear the president of the United States."

Many N.C. delegates don't think McCain will have difficulty moving away from Bush's record.

After all, said John Aneralla of Charlotte, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to the Democratic convention on Obama's behalf, and Congress has an even lower approval rating than Bush.

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