Friday, August 08, 2008

Bob Benenson’s Jigsaw Politics: Recalling the GOP Convention’s Festival of Falling Stars
By Bob Benenson, CQ Staff

...A look at the list of featured speakers at the 2004 Republican convention is itself a graphic illustration of why just four years ago seems like the good old days to so many Republican loyalists.

The roster is a virtual meteor shower of Republicans stars who have fallen within this one presidential election cycle.

Let’s start with the Monday opening day session, kicked off by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois in his role of permanent chairman of the convention. His re-election in November 2004 would extend his time as Speaker to eight years, the longest tenure for a Republican in the nation’s history. But the GOP’s loss of 30 seats and their majority in the 2006 elections relegated Hastert to the back benches and prompted him to resign his seat last November. Symbolically, a Democrat won the March special election to take over his Republican-leaning district.

Then there was a welcoming address by Michael Bloomberg — the moderate Republican mayor of heavily Democratic New York City who would soon quit the Republican Party over policy differences and become an independent.

Next up was his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani. Still riding a wave of affection for the stalwart way in which he boosted public morale following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on his city in 2001, Giuliani would enter the contest for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination and had a lead in early polls... until the actual campaign got under way. His sometimes abrasive personality, stormy personal life and drumbeat reminders of 9/11 in virtually every public appearance quickly wore thin, and he was knocked out of the race by the end of January.

One of the image problems Giuliani had to deal with this year was his close relationship with Bernard Kerik, his former police commissioner and business partner who was tarnished by ethics and legal allegations after Bush, at Giuliani’s suggestion, nominated him in December 2004 to head the Homeland Security Department. And yes, Kerik was a 2004 convention speaker too, talking about 9/11, as the GOP made a hefty effort to hail Bush’s assertive military response to that calamity.

Others in the Monday program who have since hit hard times included Virginia Sen. George Allen, then touted as a possible darling of conservative Republicans for the 2008 White House race, until his own gaffes and an unexpected strong challenge from Democrat Jim Webb in his 2006 campaign sent him to the sidelines. There also was Ohio Republican Gov. Bob Taft, whose administration’s subsequent ethics scandals — including his own plea of no contest to charges of failing to report gifts — helped Democrats take over his office, a Senate seat and a House seat in Ohio in the 2006 elections.

One Monday night speaker who escape the furies of the Republican downfall, at least so far, was Arizona Sen. John McCain , who gave a glowing endorsement of ex-rival Bush. That speech helped McCain mend some fences with Republican regulars with whom he’d had a touchy relationship since he challenged Bush for the 2000 GOP nomination, and may have helped lay the groundwork for his successful bid for the 2008 top spot.

Whether that 2004 speech will help or hurt McCain in this year’s general election remains to be seen...


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