PHILADELPHIA — Bill Clinton talked in 1996 about building a bridge
to the 21st century. But the actual construction may have to be supervised
by George W. Bush as a result of the Republican National Convention.

Bush pulled off the political equivalent of a trifecta. He unified
all wings of the party — social, economic and foreign affairs —
through moderate rhetoric repeated to the point of nausea and a steely
toughness in maintaining conservative policy positions in the platform.
The convention itself, stage-managed to the most minute detail, pounded
home the message of inclusion and diversity. His acceptance speech,
while perhaps a bit long, nevertheless was the right blend of policy,
emotion, and partisanship delivered in a workmanlike fashion that made a
favorable impression on voters and opinion-makers. Lastly, in his
vice-presidential decision, Gov. Bush’s selection of former Defense
Secretary Dick Cheney proved to be a popular choice with voters and with
party regulars.

The Bush team’s performance has been echoed in rising poll numbers
tracked during convention week. The bipartisan Battleground
2000 Poll showed Bush up by double digits, with higher ratings than
before the convention opened. The Rasmussen Portrait of America poll
online at WorldNetDaily had it at 17 points. Political insiders here
said a truer indication of Bush’s advantage would be around eight points
— big enough to be a commanding lead but not so big that the Democrats
cannot overcome it. Suffice to say whatever Bush Central Command has
been doing is working. So far.

How did Bush manage to do what eluded Bob Dole in 1996? Simple. He
talked moderately but walked conservatively. For all the Republicans’
talk of moderation, inclusion and diversity, their traditionally
conservative platform remained largely intact. There were some tweaks
here and there and a few minor language changes, but conservatives were
generally pleased. Social conservatives in particular told me at a
Christian Coalition rally held far away from the convention site, that
they didn’t care if they didn’t hold center stage in 2000 as they had in
previous party conclaves.

Why? They got the platform language they wanted and that was enough.
The usual pro-choice suspects held their usual press conferences in the
corridors of the platform committee before the convention hoping to
change the abortion language. But political reporters instead focused on
the efficiency of the Bush machine which passed the platform in a mere
17 minutes. A few rote stories were written but they were buried back
behind the foreign news pages.

The Bush convention managers were criticized for their podium parade
of African-Americans, Hispanics, women and children. Not representative
of the party, some huffed. Where was the debate on ideas, others puffed.
But in the end, the managers had the last laugh. While Bush’s poll
numbers in general were rising, his numbers with white married mothers
(read: soccer moms) skyrocketed. In the past three days, according to
the bipartisan Battleground 2000 poll, Bush got a significant boost,
elevating his advantage in this critical group to roughly 25 points.
This group, which normally votes Republican, split 50-50 between Bob
Dole and Bill Clinton in 1996. Since Clinton got practically all the
votes of single and minority women, the split on married women enabled
the Democrats to win the group as a whole rather easily. Bush and the
party have real opportunities here.

One savvy political insider told me that even if blacks vote for Bush
in lesser numbers than Bob Dole (which doesn’t seem possible), or that
Hispanic voters in the end break heavily towards Gore, the images of
Bush with minority kids while hugging Hispanics and women have worked to
reassure moderate whites that Bush is neither enthrall to the Christian
Coalition nor is a closet right-wing sycophant. That he may share some
of these views to some degree as reflected in his acceptance speech
earns him a pass from the conservative wing. The numbers say this crafty
balancing act is working.

Lastly, Gov. Bush’s choice of Dick Cheney has proved to be a
political winner. Despite initial worries about Cheney’s conservative
votes in Congress against gun control, cop-killer bullets and a pardon
for Nelson Mandela, voters seem to be taking to the strong, unflappable
man they remember from the Gulf War. Again, voter polls back this up and
Democratic attack ads don’t seem to be working.

His acceptance speech did what it had to do and laid out a creditable
case for his election. If the test at this point is whether a casual
voter could tune in and say to him or herself, “I could see this guy as
president,” then Bush made the grade.

However, the Democrats and Al Gore do have openings on several
fronts. There are legitimate policy differences that could be raised;
Gov. Bush’s record in Texas is fair game, and the inevitable Gore attack
could cleave Bush in half. A great vice presidential choice could help
as well. If Gore could convince Bill Bradley to run, it would be a
formidable ticket. We’ll know a lot more where we stand following the
Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Previously on WorldNetDaily, I wrote that many political experts
believe that whoever is ahead by Labor Day wins the election. In fact,
only once (Ronald Reagan in 1980) was that not true; there were a few
other exceptions in polls taken after Labor Day, but the general rule
still holds. If Gore can’t close the gap significantly after Los
Angeles, he’ll have to hope an all-out nasty campaign and a few Bush
stumbles in the October debates frighten voters enough to stay with the
Democrats. That’s certainly possible and that scenario was the basic
script written by Bush père in 1988.

So the race is not over, but the inevitable conclusion after the
Republican National Convention is that the election is Bush’s to lose.
Political players I talked with believe voters don’t want to give Gore
what would be Clinton’s third term. But if Bush can’t measure up, they

The Republicans seemed to do all they could possibly do in
Philadelphia. Now it’s the Democrats’ turn. California, here we come.

Neal Lavon
covers politics and other issues for the Voice of America in Washington. The views he expresses are his own.

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