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Monday's meeting of the New York delegation indicated that the war in Iraq may emerge as a major Democratic campaign theme.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who supports the war on terrorism, told delegates that President Bush has turned what should have been a struggle between freedom and terrorism into a war between the United States and Islam.

"George Bush has not realized this and made our foreign policy a mess," Schumer said.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-Harlem, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Bush's war policies, echoed the same theme.

"I remember the day when wherever America went it was the bearer of hope and opportunity," he said. "In four years, we've lost that credibility."

Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie was not about to let the Democrats get away with saying too much against his guys this week. He gathered about 25 reporters at the Colonnade Hotel Monday afternoon to add his own spin to the themes and developments coming out of Boston.

Gillespie called it "interesting" that the Kerry campaign reaches 35 years into the past and his Vietnam experience to portray the Democratic presidential candidate as a strong leader.

"But there hasn't been a whole lot talked about in the interim 35 years," he said, adding he believes fellow senators are less likely to stand with him than former Navy crewmen.

"His policies, I think, are not ones that will be embraced by the American people. These are challenging times that demand steady leadership."

Erie County Democrats are scheduled to hold a reception at the Park Plaza Hotel today that is expected to feature Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. He, too, is considered one of the stars of the New York delegation as he contemplates running for governor in 2006, making the Erie County suite one of several required destinations during convention week.

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