Patriot game played to win

San Diego Diary
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The Independent Online
The faithful at the Republican National Convention wear their patriotism on their sleeves - and on their heads, chests, and legs. See the Uncle Sam hats sprouting trunks and floppy ears, in honour of the Grand Old Party's elephant mascot. Marvel at the sequinned waistcoats in red, white and blue. Gaze in wonder at the Stars and Stripes ties and trousers.

You would think you'd stumbled into a giant fancy dress party. But no one is laughing. They mean it. They really love their country. No one more than Mary Eckert of Columbus, Ohio, who beat off 100 other candidates for the honour of leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance at the convention's opening ceremony on Monday. Draped in the national colours, she wore a billowing flag for a skirt. "I was steeped in patriotism when I was growing up," says Ms Eckert. "My family taught me never to put anything on top of the Bible and never to let the flag touch the ground." Are you listening, Michael Portillo?

Ralph Reed, the director of the Christian Coalition, has been making his presence felt. It was his people who cowed Bob Dole into changing the wording of an official convention document which initially advocated tolerance towards the pro-choice Powell camp. It was they who led the witch-hunt against the pro-choice governors of California, Massachusetts and New York, successfully removing them from the roster of convention speakers.

Why is Mr Reed so powerful? Because his militants are the best fund-raisers and election campaigners the Republicans have. So they have to give him what he wants. But Mr Reed is an honourable man, so he went before the television cameras and quite properly declared that the party was united and that Mr Dole's tax cuts would be great and that there was so much electricity on the convention floor "you could power the West Coast for a week". So this meant, a reporter asked, that he was endorsing the Dole- Kemp ticket, right? "Oh no," he said, shocked. "The Christian Coalition is an issues organisation. We are going to be distributing non-partisan election guidelines but, no, we will not endorse Bob Dole."