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Everything But Astroturf

What a natural fit for the opening night of the Republican National Convention.

With a prime-time slot , Hank Williams Jr.'s familiar "Are you ready?" anthem, high-energy graphics, dry ice and groovy lights, it had all the trappings of Monday Night Football.

Two opposing helmets slammed into one another, one with the Democratic donkey and the other with the GOP's elephant mascot. Little to anyone's surprise, the big screen TV inside the First Union Center then showed a solitary helmet graced with an elephant sitting serenely on a bed of green grass.

Hardly the high-impact drama that captivates viewers on a typical Monday night. The winner was decided months ago. Yet that didn't seem to bother the convention delegates and visitors in attendance.

The GOP Convention
Tuesday Schedule
Evening Session: 7:30-11 p.m.
Theme: Strength and Security with A Purpose: Safe in our Homes and in the World
Highlights: Speeches by Bob and Elizabeth Dole, retired Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf and Sen. John McCain. Video tributes to former presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush.
WebCast: provides live coverage of the convention. Tune-in at 7:30 p.m.
Betty Neal, a black minister from Harlem, loved the thrill of it all.

"It seems like old times," she said. "The Republican Party was once the party of blacks," referring to the Party of Lincoln's abolitionist roots. "I was a Democrat for 40 years, but then I became a Republican because the Democratic Party seems to have taken African-Americans for granted. They are not really accountable to us."

Neal added she didn't feel taken for granted by her "new" party, which strives for a more inclusive image even though its candidates for president and vice president this year are white and male - as well as most of the convention delegates. After all, she pointed out, look at Colin Powell, the retired black general of Gulf War fame who was the main speaker on Monday night.

Delegates who were asked whether they were bored by a convention slammed for its pre-packaging responded with an enthusiastic "no."

Victor Meyers, a Washington State delegate, wore full colonial garb, including a tri-cornered hat - appropriate gear indeed for the convention city that's the birthplace of the Declaation of Independence.

"Hey, it's not scripted. I've had my input," he said. "I don't feel like I've been silenced, and part of the reason I'm wearing this is because I'm not scripted."

A common sense argument worthy of a Founding Father, perhaps.

"Had a number of people try and offer to buy my hat," Meyers added. "Had to armwrestle it away from someone who wanted to take it."

Said Neal of this week's GOP gathering, "This is for real people, little people like me."

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