Cheney, a Democrat Hammer Kerry

NEW YORK -- Declaring that the nation's fundamental security was at stake in the presidential election, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that Senator John Kerry had repeatedly "made the wrong call" on critical foreign policy challenges and failed to appreciate the severity of the threat the nation faced after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cheney's remarks were part of a vigorous assault that he and his party mounted on Kerry's domestic and foreign policy credentials, coupled with a spirited defense of President Bush's economic stewardship, as the Republicans gathered for the third night of their nominating convention in New York.

"He talks about leading a more sensitive war on terror, as though al-Qaida will be impressed with our softer side," Cheney said of Kerry, speaking in a somber tone to a crowd that interrupted him with shouts of "U.S.A." as he recalled the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"He declared at the Democratic Convention that he will forcefully defend America -- after we have been attacked," Cheney continued. "My fellow Americans, we have already been attacked, and faced with an enemy who seeks the deadliest of weapons to use against us, we cannot wait for the next attack. We must do everything we can to prevent it -- and that includes the use of military force."

"George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people," he said, drawing applause as he mocked Kerry's call for alliance building.

Cheney led a parade of Republicans -- and one Democrat -- in an orchestrated evening intended to undercut Kerry's commander-in-chief credentials ,while also trying to seize the ground on economic issues. The speakers stood in front of a banner that read "Land of Opportunity" as they attributed the economic difficulties of the past four years to a downturn that began under President Bill Clinton and was aggravated by the terrorist attacks. They asserted that the economy was on the rise again.

The party formally nominated Bush to run for a second term at 8:09 p.m.

Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, issued a statement shortly after the Republicans adjourned, saying: "There was a lot of hate coming from that podium tonight. What John Kerry and I offer to the American people is hope."

Republicans enlisted the Democrat who delivered the keynote address at the 1992 Democratic convention that nominated Bill Clinton, Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, to offer the keynote for the Republicans, which amounted to a memorably brutal attack on Kerry and the Democratic Party. Miller, a Southern conservative who has grown increasingly alienated from his party, said Democrats had placed partisan politics over national security during this time of war and portrayed Kerry as "fainthearted," self-indulgent and indecisive.

"For more than 20 years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure," Miller said, adding: "George Bush wants to grab terrorists by the throat and not let them go to get a better grip. From John Kerry, they get a 'yes-no-maybe' bowl of mush that can only encourage our enemies and confuse our friends."

But it was a full-throated attack on his own party that roused the Republicans who filled Madison Square Garden.

"At the same time young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of a Democrat's manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief," Miller said, staring sternly across the hall. "What has happened to the party I've spent my life working in?"

As much presidential campaigning was taking place away from the convention as inside Madison Square Garden. Kerry, breaking from a tradition in which opposing candidates strike a low profile during nominating conventions, flew from his vacation home in Nantucket to Nashville to tell veterans that "extremism has gained momentum" across the globe under Bush's policies.

The Republicans in the hall were delighted with both speakers -- but particularly, at the image of a Democrat of their midst offering what was arguably the toughest attack on Kerry of the week. "Vintage Zell Miller," said Mayor Bob Young of Augusta, Georgia: "With his barbs and his spitballs. He's a very plain speaker and a traditional populist."