George W. Bush arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday, making a brief symbolic appearance at a rally aimed at Latino Republicans. In sticking with the theme of this convention, there was no substantive news to report, just a lot of brown faces and colorful photo-ops that have helped Bush transform the image of his Republican Party.
Even a group of all-white college Republicans held signs in Spanish. One triumphantly raised a sign reading, "Viva el Texano," a misspelling of "Tejano," the Spanish word for Texan.
When asked if Bush was going to make news at Wednesday morning's event, featuring a musical performance from Jon Secada and Celia Cruz, one Republican Latino strategist quipped, "Would you make news if you were 12 points up? No news is good news." Indeed, as members of press corps filed in, they exchanged knowing, sympathetic glances, all of us stranded in the news drought.
But Bush's first appearance here did mark a clear departure from the last time the Republicans gathered, to nominate Bob Dole in 1996. "There was nothing like this in San Diego," said California Assemblyman Rod Pacheco. "Last time, it was all Pat Buchanan and abortion fights. We're sure a long way from 1996."
The most interesting quote of the day came from Bush's Latino nephew, George P. Bush, who touted his uncle as the man who would "change the Republican Party so that it starts to reflect our views and our faces."
The Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee are investing heavily in that effort this election season. Media consultant Frank Guerra is running a $7 million ad campaign for the RNC aimed at Latino voters. Test spots have already run in limited markets in Texas, California and New Mexico with more on the way. And though they are soft money ads, Guerra hinted strongly that the next crop of spots would feature Bush himself.
"All that's still being decided now," Guerra said. "But he's certainly the most powerful face in the party."
Bush arrived with his wife Laura in tow, but without running mate Dick Cheney, who will be the featured speaker inside the convention Wednesday. Instead, Bush was joined by John McCain in another sign of GOP unity. Bush spoke only briefly, switching between Spanish and English, saying little in either language.
As Secada sang earlier in the morning, it was "just another day."