Republicans Preparing "Best Organized Presidential Campaign in Modern American History" 
Members of the RNC Gather in New York City for the Party's Summer Meeting
Thirteen months from now, the Republican National Convention will open in New York City.  Fifteen months from now, voters will decide whether President George W. Bush merits a second term.  Party and campaign leaders leaders told members of the Republican National Committee gathered for the party's summer meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on July 23-26, 2003 that planning for both efforts is proceeding smoothly.  The RNC members also elected Ed Gillespie, a prominent Republican strategist selected by President Bush, as party chairman.  He replaces former Gov. Marc Racicot, whom President Bush named to chair the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign.

While President Bush has enjoyed strong popularity ratings for much of his tenure, Republicans are leaving nothing to chance.   Outgoing RNC Chair Racicot noted, "We [Republicans] carry the burden of proof."  "This is going to be a very arduous political process between now and November of 2004," Racicot stated.  Betsy DeVos, serving her second stint as chair of the Michigan Republican Party, said, "Any sense at all of overconfidence would be the biggest flag that we could have go up, and I think everybody is pretty guarded against that."  Likewise Bush-Cheney political director Terry Nelson stated that the first guiding principle of the campaign is, "Number one, we always assume that the 2004 election will be just as close as the 2000 election."

A New York Welcome
NYC & Company, the city's convention and visitors bureau, put on an elaborate presentation to give RNC members an idea of what they and thousands of others Republicans can expect when the national convention meets here next year.  Jennifer Stewart, who impersonates the Statue of Liberty as Living Liberty®, greeted arriving members and posed for photographs.  Also available for photo ops were wax dummies of President Bush, Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and former Mayor Giuliani provided by Madame Tussaud's.  The NYPD Pipers and Drummers provided a rousing opening to the morning.  A video welcome featured prominent New Yorkers including developer Donald Trump and comedian Jerry Seinfield.  Four Radio City Rockettes®  gave a brief performance.  Karen Mason (Broadway hit "Mamma Mia!") and accompanist Seth Rudetsky's rendition of "New York, New York" brought members to their feet for a standing ovation.

In between all the entertainment, officials spoke about the city and the ongoing preparations.  Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff highlighted the city's resiliency following the attacks of September 11, 2001. "You should never doubt New York City.  Never," he stated.  Doctoroff promised "what will be undoubtedly...the greatest convention in history."  Jonathan Tisch, chairman of NYC & Company, the city's convention and visitor bureau, said the convention is important to New York both economically and emotionally.  David Norcross, chairman of the RNC's Committee on Arrangements, announced that the New York City Host Committee, under co-chair Lewis M. Eisenberg, has already raised almost $60 million.  (Eisenberg started four months ago.)  New York Republican State Committee Chair Sandy Treadwell delivered a history lesson to illustrate that, "New York is truly, truly steeped in Republican history and lore."

RNC members also won an assortment of prizes during a quiz session presided over by Cristyne L. Nicholas, president and CEO of NYC & Company.  On the way out they were offered gift bags and pretzels.

A New Leader
Friday marked a transition in the party's leadership.  After 18 months, during which he made 105 trips out of the District, visiting 39 states and 75 cities, former Gov. Marc Racicot formally resigned to take up his new position as chairman of the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign.  Members elected Ed Gillespie, 41, a native of New Jersey, as the party's 57th chairman in a voice vote.  Gillespie is a principal in the public affairs and lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates LLC, which he co-founded in January 2000.  He served as general strategist for Elizabeth Dole's U.S. Senate campaign in North Carolina in 2002, was a senior communications advisor to the Bush campaign in the 2000, and played a key role in drafting the "Contract with America" that helped Republicans gain control of the U.S. House in 1994.  Gillespie is not new to the RNC.  In his inaugural speech, he recalled that he first worked there 18 years ago as "a phoner in the basement in a little cubicle, calling people at home and bothering them for money."  "Now I'm up on the 4th floor as chairman in a big office, calling people and bothering them for money," he said.

Seeking to Build "A Lasting Majority"
In 2002 Republicans achieved historic successes, in part because of President Bush's extensive personal fundraising and campaigning.  Also critical to those successes was the RNC's focus on grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts through its "72 Hour Task Force."  Gillespie vowed to build on this 72 hour program, and he announced a new award that will be presented to the state party that does the best job of registering new Republicans.  (The party has a goal of registering 3 million new Republicans).

The cornerstone of 2004 campaign will be the leadership of President Bush.  In the words of Communications Director Jim Dyke, the party's challenge for 2004 is "to continue to build on the successes of our grassroots organization based on the president's positive agenda."  In a speech to RNC members on Saturday, Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman termed Bush's leadership "transformative."  "He has transformed challenges into opportunities.  He has led our nation to overcome some of the greatest tests in our history," Mehlman said.  Upon that foundation, Bush-Cheney '04 Political Director Terry Nelson said, Republicans will seek to craft "a greater victory in 2004, not only for the president, but for the party at large and for candidates up and down the ballot."  "We will have the best organized presidential campaign in modern American history and that will happen through a Bush Team Leader program which we'll very soon launch on our internet website," stated Nelson.  The Bush campaign will no shortage of resources to achieve its objectives; during the second quarter reporting period it raised $34.4 million, more than the nine Democratic challengers combined.

The Democratic Challenge
In contrast to the unity on display in the Republican party, the Democrats are engaged in a sometimes heated contest to determine who will be the party's nominee in 2004.  Democrats' major points of attack on Bush have included the economy and the war on Iraq and its aftermath.  The unemployment rate reached 6.4 percent in June and there has been a steady loss of manufacturing jobs.  Meanwhile the Administration has estimated the budget deficit for FY 2003 will be $455 billion.

The fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in the almost three months since President Bush announced an end to combat operations in Iraq has provided fuel to a flap over his claims leading up to the war in Iraq.  The Democratic National Committee has picked up on this point, and on Friday it placed a full-page ad in the New York Times stating that, "America took President Bush at his word...But now we find out that it wasn't true."  Speaking to reporters, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said Democrats were trying "to find some sliver of information to discredit this great president."  "The Democrats will fail in their effort to do that," he said.  In his maiden speech as chair Ed Gillespie said of the Democrats that "they're angry" and are offering "a steady stream of protest and pessimism."

Copyright © 2003  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.