Softening the Republicans' Message

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Part poet, part pol, Peggy Noonan was the Republican Party's go-to speechwriter for nearly a decade. Ronald Reagan turned to her to mark the 40th anniversary of D-day—"These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc"—and it was Noonan who helped the first George Bush find his voice in 1988. Her notion of a "kinder, gentler America" was picked up by Bush to soften the G.O.P.'s image after eight years of Reagan conservatism.

Noonan then quit politics and went on to fame as a pundit and author. Now Noonan is jumping back in the game as the party prepares its prime-time convention line-up in New York City and another Bush White House is looking for ways to modulate its message.

Noonan won't be penning this Bush's speech, G.O.P. sources tell TIME; instead, she will lend her hand to the addresses of New York Governor George Pataki and Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Though from different wings of the party—Santorum is a faith-based conservative and Pataki a moderate—both are believed to harbor national ambitions and could use Noonan's help in making the most of their moment in the spotlight.

A master at turning ideology—or the lack of it—into something inspiring, Noonan has plenty to do. Republicans watched the Democrats mount an almost pitch-perfect middle-of-the-road convention in Boston and are wondering how they can match it. Although Noonan was not recruited by the White House ("She broke down the door," says a Bush supporter), top Bush aides telephoned her last week to welcome her aboard.