Republican Convention Diary

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"Conventions are not a good place to make decisions," said Ed Rollins, Ronald Reagan's legendary campaign manager this week in a moment of frankness.

"Conventions are not a good place to make decisions," said Ed Rollins, Ronald Reagan's legendary campaign manager this week in a moment of frankness.

The only decision to be made - that of nominating Mr Bush as the official Republican candidate - was dispensed in a single sentence. The rest was a five-day variety performance of B-list singers, big-band music breaks, schmaltzy videos and fixed smiles.

All watched by America's first family from the royal box. Jeb was unavoidably detained by Hurricane Frances - fortunately for the party, since Jeb still carries awkward associations of the last election's near miss. George Sr sat there taking it all in, no doubt musing on his own re-election convention of '92 and Pat Buchanan's infamous "cultural war" speech, which lost Bush a good part of the moderate vote.

No such hiccups this time. Chief strategist Karl Rove ensured a virtuoso display of message politics. Every image, every speaker, every sign was designed to reinforce the idea of George Bush as a principled, resolute leader running against a vacillating flip-flopper.

In the wings were the usual guardians of conservatism, protecting the party against the corrupting influences of moderation. At one prayer breakfast I was handed a leaflet advertising Ratoutachurch.org, an organisation which places moles inside liberal churches to monitor the preacher's comments for any hint of political endorsements.

The chatter at the parties was about who might succeed Bush in 2008. Those who spoke at the convention with one eye on the future were John McCain, George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani and Arnie Schwarzenegger. Interestingly, they are all moderates. Where is Bush's conservative heir?

Most revealing comment: Matthew Dowd, Bush's polling manager, saying they hadn't taken a national poll for two years. It showed how the Republican campaign works: suburb to suburb, targeting hundreds of key counties with carefully tailored messages, well away from the eyes of the national media. Happy to let everyone think they are busy trying to woo the few swing voters with messages of moderation, the Republicans are actually focusing most of their efforts on getting conservatives to the ballot box.

Democrats' mistake of the week: To allow Michael Moore to sit in the convention hall and be target practice for John McCain. If he is the face of the Democratic Party, then it's going to have a tough job winning the swing vote.

Award for bovine intelligence: the New York police officer who complained about police being pulled in from surrounding neighbourhoods to provide protection. "There's no one left to watch over the store," he told reporters, "but luckily the criminal mind hasn't figured that out ..."

Most surreal moment: the film on Barney the White House dog, featuring Scott McClellan, the normally phlegmatic press secretary, chairing a debate between Barney and Fifi Kerry, a French poodle hand puppet.

Tom Carver is the Washington correspondent for BBC 'Newsnight'

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