NEW YORK – Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched past the Madison Square Garden site of the Republican National Convention on Sunday, chanting, blowing whistles and carrying anti-war banners as delegates gathered to nominate President Bush for a second term.
On the eve of the convention, the demonstrators packed the street from sidewalk to sidewalk for 20 blocks as they slowly filed past. “Hope is in the air, help is on the way,” civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said through a bullhorn.
On the other side of New York Harbor, Vice President Dick Cheney told a rally on Ellis Island that Bush was “exactly the leader we need for these times, and we need him for the next four years.”
With the New York skyline as the background, Cheney said it was “a special honor to kick things off here on this island, the gateway to America for so many people.”
Meanwhile, Bush suggested in an interview with Time magazine that he still would have gone into Iraq but with different tactics if he had known “that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day.”
He called the swift military offensive that led to the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 “a catastrophic success” in light of the fact that fighting continues to this day despite the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government.
That brought an immediate response from Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards.
“President Bush now says his Iraq policy is a catastrophic success. He’s half right. It was catastrophic to rush to war without a plan to win the peace,” Edwards said.
Pre-convention polls showed the presidential race evenly split between Bush and Democrat John Kerry, although the challenger has lost ground since his convention in Boston a month ago. The four-day Republican meeting opens Monday.
The demonstrators took their protests of Bush’s foreign and economic policies to the fortified streets of midtown Manhattan, swarming up Seventh Avenue past the convention site shouting “No More Bush.”
“The majority of this country wants the Bush administration out of office,” filmmaker and Bush critic Michael Moore told the crowd. A large banner said, “Save America. Defeat Bush.” People poked their heads out of apartment windows to watch the marchers in the sweltering heat.
About 45 protesters on bicycles were detained and bound with plastic handcuffs just off the march route, police said. More than 300 people had been arrested through Saturday night for disorderly conduct and convention-related incidents.
Bush went to church Sunday morning, rode his mountain bike and was flying later to Wheeling, W.Va., for a rally. He was campaigning in battleground states as he makes his way to this overwhelmingly Democratic convention city.
Kerry was spending the day at his beachfront home in Nantucket, Mass.
Former President Clinton, speaking in New York City at the interdenominational Riverside Church, asserted that religious faith was “not the exclusive province of the right wing.”
“The religious right has tried to turn all of us, in disagreeing with them, into two-dimensional cartoons,” Clinton said.
Politicians of both parties made the rounds of television talk shows.
Sen. Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat who will deliver the keynote address Wednesday night, said he’d never voted for a Republican for president “but I’m going to this time.”
Kerry “is not in the mainstream of this country,” Miller said on Fox News Sunday.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., attributed Kerry’s slight loss of ground in recent polls to television ads challenging Kerry’s military service in Vietnam aboard Navy Swift boats.
“I can think of no other reason. I’ve never seen anything like it in the 22 years that I’ve been active in politics,” McCain told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
McCain has called on Bush to denounce ads by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that accuse Kerry of lying about his combat service.
Bush has said all ads by independent outside groups, including those aimed at him, should be stopped and has promised to work with McCain to go to court to try to block such ads. McCain addresses the convention Monday night.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton D-N.Y., said that Bush’s re-election “would be a disaster.” Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if she agreed with Kerry’s call for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign, she said, “I’m hoping the entire administration is fired on Nov. 2.”
The New York Daily News made a front-page pitch for calm on Sunday, publishing a front-page editorial with the headline, “Play Nice.”
The convention site is several miles north of Ground Zero, where two hijacked planes destroyed both towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 people died there, at the Pentagon and at a crash site in Pennsylvania.
Thousands of police guarded New York roadways, bridges, tunnels and ports, while vehicle restrictions in an 18-square-block area around the Garden snarled traffic in a city already congested.
Bush arrives Wednesday. He’ll spend one night in New York before bolting for the battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Ohio and beyond shortly after accepting the GOP nomination.
The delegates were arriving under unprecedented security.
Convention attendees were greeted with a list of prohibited items that included guns, explosives, fireworks and knives — “regardless of size” — as well as some less obvious items such as umbrellas.
Associated Press writers Sara Kugler, Tom Hays and Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.