The time Georgia Democrat Zell Miller wowed the Republican National Convention

Miller, by then a U.S. senator, was recalled for his 1992 speech to the Democratic convention

Word that former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, will speak at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, brought to mind the story of the late Zell Miller, a former Democratic governor of Georgia, who was the keynote speaker for the Republicans in 2004, delivering a message for the re-election of George W. Bush.

Here is an AJC story from 2004 that both previewed Miller’s speech and compared it to his 1992 convention speech for Democrat Bill Clinton. Both speeches by Miller were held at Madison Square Garden.

Washington — Same convention hall. Same keynote speaker. Different party

By Bob Kemper and Ken Herman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Aug. 20, 2004

On Sept. 1, Zell Miller, the maverick Democratic senator from Georgia, will return to Madison Square Garden, where he made the keynote speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, to perform the same duty at the Republican National Convention.

Back then, Miller was a Georgia governor offering praise for Bill Clinton and criticism of the current president's father, George Bush, who was in the Oval Office at the time.

Now, Miller — who became a Bush backer after the 2000 election — is believed to be the first elected official from one major party to keynote the other party’s convention.

"Last fall I said I would do anything I could to help President Bush be re-elected," said Miller, who is not seeking re-election himself this year. "So if his campaign thinks this is a way that I can be of help, I am honored to do so."

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ExploreFrom 1992: Zell Miller's address to Bill Clinton's Democratic National Convention

Miller praised Bush as a "strong commander in chief who is guided by the right principles."

The Republicans will gather in New York from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 to nominate Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for a second term. Miller is to speak the same evening as the vice president and his wife, conservative activist Lynne Cheney.

Credit: JOE CAVARETTA

Credit: JOE CAVARETTA

The Bush campaign announced in June that Miller would be among the speakers at the convention. But in giving him the keynote address, Republicans have significantly raised Miller's status at the event, which has been crafted to portray Bush as having broad political appeal.

Contrast with ’92 words

Alec Poitevint, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, said Miller's appearance "sends a clear signal about President Bush's commitment to reach out to everyone across our country.

“When [Miller] became the senator, he told all of us he was running to be the senator of all Georgians — Democrats, independents and Republicans,” Poitevint said. “What you can say about Zell Miller is, he kept his word.”

Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie said Miller's address would highlight "the land of opportunity created by President Bush's pro-growth, pro-American worker, pro-American entrepreneur agenda."

Democrats derided Miller’s willingness to speak up for Bush, recalling how he savaged Bush’s father in 1992. Miller painted the elder Bush as a man who “talks like Dirty Harry but acts like Barney Fife” and characterized the Republican Party as out of touch with the American people.

"His words in 1992 about that President Bush and the Republican Party still ring true today about this President Bush and his Republican Party," said Georgia Democratic Chairman Bobby Kahn.

ExploreFrom 2004: Coverage of Zell Miller's speech and reaction to it

Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Miller was no Democrat, even if he continued to call himself one and insisted he had no plans to leave the party.

"The Republicans are simply trotting out an elephant in donkey's clothing," he said. "This is emblematic of what the Republicans are trying to do with their convention, namely mislead the American people."

The Kerry-Edwards campaign reacted by releasing a 2001 quote in which Miller introduced Kerry at a Georgia Democratic dinner as "one of this nation's authentic heroes."

"We are thrilled that the Republican convention is going to feature someone who, in his own words, thinks John Kerry is an authentic hero who has worked to strengthen our military," said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer.

Change of heart

But Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Miller's appearance might help Republicans counter the Democrats' coup in getting the son of former President Ronald Reagan, Ron Jr., to speak at their convention last month.

“I think it’s a smart choice. Zell gives a great speech, and it is going to impress at least some swing voters that a Democratic Senate colleague of both John Kerry and John Edwards would come out for Bush,” Sabato said. “I doubt we’ll want for emotion or a great stump speech. He’ll deliver.”

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ExploreOn C-SPAN: Watch video of Zell Miller's 2004 speech to the Republican National Convention

Miller electrified Democrats in 1992 by spinning the story of his life in the mountains of North Georgia into a yarn about the essential goodness of the Democratic Party and the contrasting indifference of the Republican Party under the first President Bush.

"Four years ago Mr. Bush told us he was a quiet man who hears the voices of quiet people," Miller told the Democratic delegates. "Today we know the truth. George Bush is a timid man who hears only the voices of caution and the status quo. Let's face facts: George Bush just doesn't get it. He doesn't see it, he doesn't feel it, and he's done nothing about it. That's why we cannot afford four more years."

But last year, Miller, who had become increasingly vocal about his dissatisfaction with the national Democratic leadership since he joined the Senate in 2000, published "A National Party No More." An indictment of the Democratic Party, the book went on to become a best seller.

Gillespie declined to discuss Miller's 1992 comments.

"We believe elections are about the future and looking forward," he said, "and Senator Zell Miller is going to make his remarks geared toward President Bush having a new term, and that's what our focus is."

— Staff writer Nancy Badertscher in Atlanta contributed to this article.