Day 2: Lieberman, Bush, Thompson Extol McCain

Day 2 of the Republican National Convention was about extolling John McCain as the man ready to lead America. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, aimed his comments at disaffected Democrats and independents. President Bush and Fred Thompson also addressed the convention.

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Almost every presidential election features people who campaign for the candidate of the opposing party. Seldom, though, are those people as prominent as Senator Joe Lieberman. The Democrats' one-time vice presidential choice, an independent who still works with Democrats in the Senate, spoke up last night for John McCain.

Lieberman spoke on the same night as the president, whose ticket defeated Lieberman's side back in 2000. NPR's David Welna reports from St. Paul.

DAVID WELNA: It fell to first lady Laura Bush last night to introduce her husband to a crowd that truly seemed eager to hear from him.

Ms. LAURA BUSH (First Lady): George remains a man of strong values with enduring love for the United States of America.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: In fact, one of the greatest challenges GOP convention organizers faced was what to do about President Bush, because Democrats want to brand John McCain as simply a third Bush term. Having the two of them at the convention risked giving McCain's opponents more ammunition.

But Republicans couldn't exclude a president from their own party, either, even one with an approval rating hovering around 30 percent. In the end, Hurricane Gustav helped thread the needle by giving the president a compelling reason to stay away from the convention. When he did speak to the convention last night, it was not in prime time, and it was from the politically safe distance of nearly 1,000 miles away, at the White House.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: As you gather tonight in St. Paul, I want to share some thoughts about our nominee, a great American and the next president of the United States, John McCain.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: The remote appearance was essentially the swan song of a president with fewer than five months left in office. It was also a tribute to an erstwhile political opponent. McCain has clashed with Mr. Bush both as a rival on the campaign trail eight years ago, and as a senator who refused to vote for the Bush tax cuts - conflicts which the president alluded to last night.

Pres. BUSH: John is an independent man who thinks for himself. He's not afraid to tell you when he disagrees. Believe me, I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WELNA: But as a presidential contender, McCain wants the Bush tax cuts made permanent. President Bush returned the favor last night, lauding McCain's resolve as a prisoner of war while taking a shot at his political opponents.

Pres. BUSH: Fellow citizens, if the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: The story of what McCain went through at that Hanoi Hilton was told in vivid detail by Fred Thompson, a presidential hopeful himself this year who is close to McCain in the Senate.

Senator FRED THOMPSON (Republican, Tennessee): John McCain's bones may have been broken, but his spirit never was.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. THOMPSON: Now, being a POW doesn't qualify anyone to be president, but it does reveal character.

WELNA: And though it was Thompson's task to tell the story of the candidate, he insisted no introduction was really needed.

Sen. THOMPSON: It's pretty clear there are two questions that we'll never have to ask ourselves: Who is this man, and can we trust this man with the presidency?

WELNA: And Joe Lieberman, whom Democrats trusted to be their vice presidential nominee at the 2000 election, wrapped up last night's speeches with a ringing endorsement of his Republican colleague.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: What Lieberman shares most with McCain is a non-stinting support for a war in Iraq, which Barack Obama opposed from the start.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: When colleagues like Barack Obama were voting to cut off funding for our American troops on the battlefield...

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. LIEBERMAN: ...John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion, advocate the surge, support the surge, and because of that today, America's troops are coming home, thousands of them, and they're coming home in honor.

WELNA: Tonight it will be vice presidential pick Sarah Palin addressing the convention. She got a strong warm-up last night from Fred Thompson.

Sen. THOMPSON: The selection of Governor Palin has got the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. THOMPSON: And no wonder - she's a courageous, successful reformer who's not afraid to take on the establishment.

WELNA: To which he added: Sound like anyone else we know?

David Welna, NPR News, St. Paul.

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