Can Surfer George Ride One for the Gipper?

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We're all going home. All of us except George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who are ready to take off on their first campaign barnstorm as the official candidates of the Republican party. After five days of speeches, parties and fund-raising, the 2000 GOP convention is over, and spirits are high here in Philadelphia. Bush's rousing and, by all accounts, presidential acceptance speech on Thursday night brought down the house; the delegates are charged up and ready to take the message home. Let the proselytizing begin.

So what do we walk away with? To recap: The Bush-Cheney ticket represents hope, a new beginning, honor, dignity and... did we mention dignity? This is the moment the GOP has been waiting eight years for, and Bush is ready to for the fight; he's ready to take on Clinton-Gore, ready for the exhausting tour of duty that is a presidential campaign. Is he ready for the tough questions? That remains to be seen.

As the debates loom large and the Democrats converge on Los Angeles to pick up their own momentum, Bush and Cheney are in for a debilitating and, if the last few days of inter-party barbs are any indication, bruising campaign season. They now face the classic political challenge: Capture the euphoria of the convention floor, take it on the road, and show a disgruntled and disaffected American public that they are worthy of those blizzards of balloons and confetti.

This is an intensely optimistic moment for the Republicans; perhaps more than at any time since Ronald Reagan's triumphant 1980 campaign, there is a tangible sense of possibility. And optimism, as Reagan himself knew better than anyone, is possibly the most powerful weapon in politics.

If you believe what's been repeated this week in Philadelphia, today's GOP is a different party than it was in 1992, or in 1996. This is now the party of inclusion, of education, of diversity. In their minds, anyway, the Republicans today are a party that's confronted its demons, exorcised them, and is now prepared to cleanse the nation of the various ghosts we've accumulated during the Clinton-Gore administration.

In Gore, Bush faces a capable challenger, someone who will dredge up the governor's environmental record with gusto, who will question Bush's true measure of compassion and who will take issue with the GOP's appropriation of the traditionally Democratic messages so evident in Thursday night's speech.

Cheney will also be confronted with his past: The Democrats' vice presidential candidate will undoubtedly attack the former defense secretary's legislative past, his hard-right votes on the ERA, abortion and gun control which, dusted off and displayed in today's more moderate political climate, may strike some as anachronistic.

Tonight, though, all those troubling details lie ahead. This is a night of celebration for the Republicans. This is the crest of the wave for Bush-Cheney. Now we'll wait to see if they've got the gumption and strength to catch it — and ride it triumphantly to shore.