Convention Diary: Well-heeled types start party early

BY LAST night the stampede was complete, all 50,000 guests expected at the convention were safely in town and the great Republican rodeo was under way.

Even the star of the week, Barbara Bush - oh, and incidentally, George, too - had made it. She takes the stage tomorrow night with the entire Bush clan, kids and grandkids, at her side. The President will only make his grand entrance at the Astrodome on Thursday, for his coronation as candidate for four more years.

Even before the dropping of the gavel yesterday morning to mark the start of official business, most of the delegates - 2,210 in all - were already well into the party mood, and not just politically speaking. In a whirlwind of polite Texas socialising, most had spent the weekend sucking on barbecued ribs and sipping margaritas - a Mexican cocktail that comes highly recommended - at the best city clubs or at the homes of the Houston rich, of which there are many.

These are well turned-out folk, by the way. No jeaned Democrats here. A view from the rafters of the assembled faithful last night would have revealed lots of blue-rinse hair-dos and knife-sharp side partings. Men, mostly in business suits, would certainly outnumber women, and blacks would hardly be in evidence.

As for their political views, the prize for conservatism must go to the 121-strong Texan delegation. Over three-quarters back a total ban on abortion and most deplore homosexuals and have little concern about Aids. Take Rita Palm of Fort Worth on abortion: 'It's a white issue because black families have their babies and use them as a means for an income', or Coleman Carter on Aids: 'I equate it with leprosy.'

Mr Carter, presumably, paid little attention to the Act-Up/Queer Nation march that snaked to the Astrodome yesterday to protest views such as his in the Republican mainstream. Homosexuals were not alone in raising their voices. Among a selection of groups demonstrating in the convention environs were the Lone Star Croation Club, the Zionist Organisation of America and, for frustrated greens, an organisation called Earth, Wind and Water.

The latest elephant sighting, incidentally - the official emblem of the Republican Party - was of a 6ft topiary specimen welcoming delegates at the entrance to the Astrodome. Houstonians, it seems, have a thing about topiaries. Roaming the streets and front lawns are a wide variety of leafy apparitions, including giraffes, Texas longhorns, flamingos, reindeers, monkeys, rabbits, pigs and armadillos.

Fire engines are a favourite fetish of the Republican Party. They appeared first in Ronald Reagan's sentimental Morning in America television advertisements in the 1984 campaign. Mr Bush's commercials, four years later, featured one as well, being lovingly wiped down by two men in some sunny prairie town. And, lo and behold, in Americana, the video film made for this convention, there is another red and shiny model, once again getting the chamois-leather treatment from two loving gents.

If the delegates have received a great welcome, journalists are feeling unloved. Most began work yesterday exhausted by the experience of finding their credentials at a different conference centre six miles away, and then spending three hours negotiating the wasteland of Houston's freeways and the battalions of police barricading the Astrodome. Hacks have been directed to no fewer than four hotels to pick up parking permits. So far, none has been successful in obtaining one. Looks like it's going to be Shanks's pony.

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