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Ex-rivals line up to back Bush

Republicans try to rally support from diverse groups

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PHILADELPHIA — George W. Bush finally arrived in Philadelphia Wednesday morning to watch his formal nomination later in the evening by the Republican National Convention — ending a five-day preliminary battle march through states that President Clinton won four years ago.

"We look forward to celebrating with our fellow Republicans and fellow Americans. We look forward to sending a message that the American dream can reach through all corners of society," Bush said at the airport where he rang three times a replica of the Liberty Bell.

That came after his top former GOP rivals sounded clarion calls themselves Tuesday to rally diverse factions to his campaign by depicting it as a crusade to protect America not just by rebuilding a depleted military but also by rebuilding its morals.

"George W. Bush understands there is power and there is a higher power," said Elizabeth Dole, an early opponent of Bush. "He knows there is no strength without integrity; no security apart from strong character for these timeless values that form our first line of defense."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the distant GOP runner-up to Bush, said Bush "will not squander this unique moment in history by allowing America to retreat behind empty threats, false promises and uncertain diplomacy. He will confidently defend our interests and values wherever they are threatened."

But some efforts aimed at attracting diverse groups angered conservatives when Bush's campaign chose the only openly gay GOP U.S. House member, Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., to speak on what Bush will mean to foreign trade. And some unrest outside the convention occurred as hundreds of protesters were arrested.

A "rolling" roll call of states — where a few have voted each night — will finally and formally put Bush over the top Wednesday evening. Utah is scheduled to cast one of the final votes (called alphabetically). The convention is then expected to nominate former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney for vice president by acclamation.

Cheney is scheduled to give his acceptance speech Wednesday night, while Bush will finally address the convention in person on Thursday, although he has talked to it briefly each night via satellite from the campaign trail.

Of Utah interest, Steve Young, former quarterback for Brigham Young University and the San Francisco 49ers, will offer a prayer to open the Wednesday evening session after a pro wrestler called "The Rock" calls it to order.

While McCain and Dole were once fierce and sometimes bitter rivals with Bush, they had high praise for him Tuesday and pleaded with Americans to support him as the best chance to defend American ideals worldwide.

"If you believe America deserves leaders with a purpose more ennobling than expediency and opportunism, then vote for Gov. Bush," McCain said. "We need to get riled up a bit and stand up for the values that made America great."

He added, "Many years ago, the governor's father (President George Bush) served in the Pacific with distinction under the command of my grandfather (a Navy admiral). Now it is my turn to serve under the son of my grandfather's brave subordinate."

Dole added that Bush's "compassionate conservatism" could change "smash-mouth politics" of recent years. "He will repair the frayed strands of community. And he knows that the best way to do this is through nonprofits, businesses, civic and religious groups, schools and charities."

The GOP also brought out other old warriors to contend that Bush will rebuild a military that is depleted and remember the values that former soldiers defended.

Former Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led allied forces in the Persian Gulf War, said from the deck of the battleship New Jersey that since that war the number of Army divisions has been cut in half, Navy battle forces have been cut by a third and Air Force strength cut by 40 percent. And many soldiers are so poorly paid that they qualify for food stamps.

"We can do better for the great men and women who defend our country," he said. "Wouldn't it be great for our armed forces if we could have another commander in chief named George Bush with Dick Cheney on his team?"

The convention also hearkened back to GOP glory days with emotional tributes to its former presidents and by having Bob Dole — the 1996 GOP nominee who was disabled from World War II wounds — lead a tribute to veterans of past wars.

Afterward, Bush said via satellite, "A president has no higher duty than to keep the peace and protect American lives. . . . As commander in chief, I will rebuild America's military."

Former President Gerald Ford, who was honored Tuesday night on the floor of the convention, suffered a small stroke during the ceremony, doctors said Wednesday.

Ford, 87, was "having a little bit of trouble with his balance" and experiencing weakness in his left arm but is awake and thinking clearly, said Dr. Robert Schwartzman at Hahnemann University Medical Center.

The convention also continued parading minority members as spokesmen for how the party could serve them but offended some conservatives when homosexual Kolbe was chosen to explain to the convention how Bush policies may help foreign trade.

Utah delegate Gayle Ruzicka, state president of the conservative Eagle Forum, said: "It was outrageous to have him talk, especially about free trade. Rep. Chris Cannon could have spoken better about that. The Log Cabin Republicans (a gay party group) is just bragging everywhere" in the convention hall over Kolbe's appearance.

She added that the GOP leaders "shouldn't have done it — it's the old big-tent thing. But it won't help get any votes (from pro-homosexual rights people). Those who live the homosexual lifestyle will be voting for the Democrat anyway. All it did was offend the true conservative Republicans, and it may drive some of them to vote for Pat Buchanan" (who hopes to get the Reform Party presidential nomination).

Meanwhile, gay Republicans are cheering the Bush-Cheney ticket as one that understands them in part because Cheney has a daughter who is openly gay, but the Cheneys have declined to discuss that with the press so far.

While harmony reigned inside the GOP national convention, Philadelphia police arrested more than 285 protesters on Tuesday. Most were charged with misdemeanor offenses after they blocked traffic in central Philadelphia to protest issues ranging from conditions in Third World countries to treatment of blacks in America.

The most serious problems came when some protesters spray-painted cars and slashed tires on downtown streets.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com; lee@desnews.com