GOP Convention Planners Want Bush Out of the Picture

Give the president a first-night speech, and then get him out of town before McCain arrives.

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Sen. John McCain's plans are gradually unfolding for the Republican National Convention in September as he tries to walk a tightrope between conflicting demands.

First is the question of how to give President Bush a forum as the party's two-time nominee but at the same time keep McCain at a distance from the unpopular incumbent. The answer, according to McCain aides, will be to have Bush give a speech on the first night of the convention—a Monday—and let him have the moment to himself. McCain isn't scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the convention site, until Tuesday at the earliest, after Bush leaves, which means that, at this point, the two men won't be seen with each other that week.

Other tentative plans call for allowing McCain's major rivals for the GOP nomination this year—Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, and Fred Thompson—to speak at the convention. All have now endorsed McCain. This would allow each to have a bit of the limelight and at the same time show that the party is unified.

McCain is leaning toward arriving Tuesday or Wednesday and departing Thursday after his acceptance speech, when he would immediately begin a swing around the country.

McCain advisers expect him to get a "bump" in the polls of 5 percentage points or more, which they believe will keep him tied with Democratic candidate Barack Obama or move him slightly ahead as the final sprint begins.

The last time an incumbent president sought to pass the torch, in 2000, there were some strained relations and PR concerns between Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Still, after Clinton gave an opening-night endorsement address at the Democratic convention, he flew to Monroe, Mich., so they could be seen campaigning together before Gore flew to Los Angeles to formally accept the Democratic nomination.

—Kenneth T. Walsh