HOUSTON -- With his renomination behind him, President Bush will try to trigger his political comeback tonight with a high-stakes acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention.
Amid signs the convention isn't producing the political lift that Republicans were counting on, Mr. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle were formally renominated last night at the Astrodome.
It was after 1 a.m. on the East Coast when 2,200 chanting delegates at the Astrodome finally gave the Bush-Quayle ticket a virtually unanimous vote total in the roll call of the states. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley delivered Maryland's 42 votes to Mr. Bush with a short speech extolling the state as the birthplace of the national anthem and home of the Preakness, Orioles and Chesapeake Bay.
Earlier in the evening, Mr. Bush himself made a brief appearance on the podium, leaning into the microphones to thank the delegates.
"We'll see you all tomorrow," he said, surrounded by members of his immediate family.
A new ABC News-Washington Post poll, completed halfway through the convention and released last night, found no improvement in Mr. Bush's standing, with Democrat Bill Clinton still holding a 25-point lead. Unreleased data from a CBS poll conducted Tuesday night and yesterday morning, also showed little change in Mr. Clinton's big advantage, a network source said.
In her speech nominating Mr. Bush, Labor Secretary Lynn Martin hammered away at Mr. Clinton as a draft dodger. The Arkansas governor used a student deferment to avoid conscription during the Vietnam War era.
"Inside George Bush is the heart of an 18-year-old fighter pilot who risked his life for his country, who did not run from his responsibilities then and does not now," she said. "You can't be one kind of man and another kind of president."
She hailed Mr. Bush's achievements in foreign policy but fuzzed over his shortcomings on the domestic front, boasting of the creation of "20 million new jobs in America these past 12 years." In fact, Mr. Bush, who promised to create 30 million new jobs as president, has seen net employment rise by less than 1 million jobs during his first term; the rest of the jobs were created under Ronald Reagan.
"Sure we have problems. We must confront them honestly," Ms. Martin said. But, she added, the end of the Cold War, which came during Mr. Bush's term, has left Americans better off than they were four years ago.
In a departure from tradition, Mr. Quayle was also renominated rather than waiting for today's closing session as is customary.
Former Education Secretary William J. Bennett delivered the nominating speech for the vice president, who is widely regarded as a drag on the GOP ticket. Mr. Bennett's speech was notable for its lack of focus on Mr. Quayle's first four years in office, referring to him by name less than a dozen times in the 15-minute speech.
Earlier, the wives of Mr. Bush and Mr. Quayle took the podium, as GOP convention planners sought to deflect the public's attention from economic concerns by changing the subject to "family values."
Mrs. Bush, given a prime-time speaking spot designed to capitalize on her enormous popularity, used her speech to dismiss persistent rumors that the president is ill. She described her husband as "the strongest, the most decent, most caring, wisest and, yes, the healthiest man I know."
On a night designed to highlight the GOP theme of family values, Mrs. Bush portrayed the president as a loving family man and introduced her eldest grandson, George P. Bush of Miami, who delivered a testimonial to his grandfather.
"Despite the enormous pressures of his job, he always has time for his 12 grandkids," said George P., as his relatives call him. "Family is what makes my grandfather tick."
Mrs. Quayle, 43, said that she and her 45-year-old husband differ sharply from Mr. Clinton and his running mate, Sen. Al Gore, "the boomers who lead the other ticket."
"Not everyone demonstrated, dropped out, took drugs, joined in the sexual revolution or dodged the draft," she said, without specifically referring to the Democratic rivals.
Televangelist Marion G. "Pat" Robertson attacked Mr. Clinton's support for abortion rights and gay rights, and added a swipe at the Democrat's wife, Hillary.
"When Bill and Hillary Clinton talk about family values, they are not talking about either families or values," said Mr. Robertson, an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1988. "They are talking about a radical plan to destroy the traditional family and transfer its functions to the federal government."
In a replay of an emotion-charged scene from last month's Democratic convention, the most heart-wrenching moment of the night came when Mary Fisher, a 44-year-old mother of two who tested positive for the AIDS virus, made a personal "plea for awareness" on behalf of AIDS victims.
"We do the president's cause no good if we praise the American family but ignore a virus that destroys it," she said. "We cannot love justice and ignore prejudice, love our children and fear to teach them."
Mr. Bush, who has been watching the proceedings on television, will offer "some new ideas about economic recovery" in his acceptance speech, said White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater.
But aides tried to stifle speculation about an imminent shake-up in the president's Cabinet.
"The president believes his Cabinet is doing an excellent job," declared Mr. Fitzwater in a prepared statement released about 12 hours after Mr. Bush said in a TV interview that he would make "a lot of changes" of top personnel if he won.
Mr. Bush was forced to telephone Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack F. Kemp yesterday morning to soothe the Cabinet member's anger after the Houston Post reported that Mr. Kemp was on the way out.
At a $1,000-a plate luncheon that raised $4 million for the GOP, Mr. Bush prepped for his last trip "around the track" after 30 years in politics with an emotional tribute to the friends from whom he says he draws his strength.
"We are about to embark on the fight of our life . . . and I look forward to this fight," he told several thousand supporters at a fund-raising extravaganza. "I can feel it. I can feel it building in my blood."
Glancing around an audience that included top officials of his party, Cabinet secretaries, his children and acquaintances from his early political days in Texas, the president added: "One thing that is the most comfort is that, through good times and bad, I have had you at my side."
Returning to his pledge to re-create Harry Truman's 1948 "Give 'em hell" campaign against Congress, Mr. Bush, Mr. Quayle and their wives entered the vast hall waving from the caboose of a float designed to look like a train.
"This . . . is the first of our whistle-stop tours," Mr. Bush proclaimed. Alluding to Mr. Clinton's highly successful bus tours, the president added: "And I think the train sure beats the hell out of the bus, frankly."