Chanting "four more years," Nevada Republicans rallied around the Bush-Cheney ticket at their state convention Thursday, predicting they will help re-elect him and give Democratic Sen. Harry Reid a run for his money.
Meanwhile, Democrats accused the Republicans of turning their backs on moderate voters by making the ex-director of the Christian Coalition the keynote speaker at the state GOP convention.
But top Republicans said they are excited about Ralph Reed's appearance in Reno Friday night and that the criticism shows the Democratic Party is out of step with mainstream Nevadans.
"The Republican party is the party of the big tent. We are willing to listen to all points of view," said Attorney General Brian Sandoval, chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Nevada.
Reed, now a GOP consultant working as southeast regional director of the Bush-Cheney Campaign, is scheduled to address about 250 Republicans at the convention banquet at the Peppermill hotel-casino in Reno on Friday.
At Thursday's opening session, GOP delegates elected former Washoe County GOP chairwoman Earlene Forsythe as chairwoman of the state party. She defeated Heidi Smith, a two-year president of the national Federation of Republican Women who was nominated for the post by former Nevada congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich.
More than 225 party members listened to a live teleconference with Vice President Dick Cheney then watched a 5-minute videotaped message from President Bush, who said grassroots activists are the "heart and sole of our great party."
"The great state of Nevada will be especially important to us," Bush said.
Sandoval said Nevada Republicans "must do everything in our power" to help Bush carry the Silver State again after backing Democrat Bill Clinton the two previous presidential elections.
"We will win the state of Nevada for President Bush," he predicted.
"I have all the confidence in the world we will re-elect him," added Dema Guinn, wife of Nevada GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn.
Richard Ziser, the leader of a successful ballot measure two years ago to prohibit recognition of gay marriages in Nevada who is running for Reid's seat, said a unified GOP is critical to unseating the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.
"We really do need to pull this party together," Ziser said.
The Nevada Democrat Party attempted to steal some of their thunder by issuing a statement calling Reed a "right-wing divisive speaker" who continues to push the "ultraconservative agenda" of the religious right.
"The Nevada Republican Party is showing its true colors," state Democratic spokesman Jon Summers said.
"The self-proclaimed `party of inclusion' is sending a clear message: moderates need not apply," he said.
During eight years as director of the Christian Coalition, Reed was a leading voice of the Christian-conservative resurgence that followed Pat Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign, pressuring the GOP to maintain strong opposition to abortion and gay marriages and push for prayer in public schools.
Reed opened a political consulting firm in Georgia in 1997 and became chairman of Georgia's state GOP in 2001. He stepped down from that post last year to devote his attention to re-electing Bush.
"We're excited about having Ralph Reed visit Nevada," said Chris Carr, the state GOP's executive director.
"He is a national leader, part of the Bush team. I haven't heard one person voice any concern," he said Thursday.
Carr said the Christian Coalition "is a huge coalition and is part of our base in the Republican Party."
"The man has personal beliefs. I think his professional work shows he has worked for all Republican candidates," he said.
Reed was traveling and could not be reached directly for comment Thursday, said Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
In the Democrats' statement, Summers cited various columnists' articles that said Reed continues to identify with the conservative Christian evangelical movement.
He said Reed played a role in using the Confederate battle flag as an issue in Georgia's 2002 gubernatorial race and promoting Bush's use of it against Sen. John McCain in South Carolina's 2002 GOP presidential primary.
"He is infamous for his divisive campaign tactics," Summers said.
Carr said it was the Democrats who were resorting to "divisive tactics."
"This is coming from a party that has passed a ridiculous plank wanting to impeach the president," he said.
"Our party is made up of proud conservatives, moderates and swing voters... I think the Democratic Party in this state is out of step with mainstream Nevada and mainstream America."