Possible evidence that the Republican National Convention won't be anything like the Democratic version: This time, officials insist, the balloons will fall on schedule.

As you might recall, the balloon drop at the end of the Democratic convention may have been the only thing off message during the whole week in Boston. Instead of thousands of balloons showering the party's nominees, John F. Kerry and John Edwards got only a trickle.

Not gonna happen when President Bush and Vice President Cheney are renominated Thursday in Madison Square Garden, GOP reps insist.

To ensure that their convention comes to a well-choreographed finale, organizers have called on Treb Heining, perhaps the most respected name in the balloon drop community. Heining's Newport Beach, Calif., firm, Treb Inc., has engineered mass balloon displays for the Olympic Games, the Super Bowl and the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square. The Republican convention will be his fifth. (He did one for the Democrats, but not last time.)

You think it's easy getting 120,000-plus balloons to fall on cue? It isn't. There are air currents in the arena to consider, and the rigging has to be just right. (Rigging problems were blamed in Boston.) Communications and timing have to be perfect, too. "Very few people in the world can produce an effect of this magnitude," said Danny Magowan, a balloon contractor who will assist Heining in New York. "There's an art to it."

The drop may be a convention cliche, but as Heining, a Republican, told the Orange County Register last month, "If you can't get a balloon drop to work, how do you expect to run the country?"

To the Battle Stations

Democrats won't be idle during the Republicans' big show. Just as Republican officials did in Boston, the Dems are sending a team to New York to counter-spin the GOP's spin. The talkers include Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer of New York, Rep. Charles Rangel of New York and retired Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe will hold daily briefings.

The DNC has even cooked up a name for its operation: Mission Not Accomplished. It's a reference to the "Mission Accomplished" banner that accompanied President Bush's appearance aboard an aircraft carrier last year during which Bush hailed the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq.

The DNC is also buying airtime in 21 battleground states during the convention to run TV ads that attack Bush's record on the economy and job creation.

Those Not in the Majority

No question the Republicans, as the Democrats before them, will strive mightily to present a unified, moderate face this week in New York. But the GOP is, as they say, a big tent. Take the Iowa Republican Party. The state party's platform, adopted in June, includes a number of planks that you probably won't read in the national platform the GOP will formally adopt this week.

Among Iowa Republicans' positions: favoring the abolition of government-mandated minimum wages; supporting landlords who refuse to lease property to cohabiting gays "based on moral objections"; backing termination of parental rights for people convicted of a second drug offense; supporting the teaching in public schools of non-evolutionary theories such as "creation science" or "intelligent design science"; opposing a state program that awards scholarships to students who say they are gay; supporting U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations and the removal of U.N. headquarters from U.S. soil; opposing any socialized national health care system, based on the belief that "health care is a privilege and not a right"; and supporting a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the current practice of automatically granting citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.

Plus, the Iowa platform offers this: "We encourage anyone who objects to any tax cut that has been enacted to give as much money as they desire back to the U.S. government's general tax fund."

Paint the Town Red -- Or Blue

What do you get when you put a Republican convention in a largely Democratic city? A great ideological divide, naturally.

New York magazine found one in comparing the attitudes of 400 New York residents and 400 GOP primary voters around the country. For example, 94 percent of the New Yorkers surveyed had a favorable impression of their city, compared with 56 percent of Republicans. And GOP voters were almost three times as likely as New Yorkers to hold a favorable view of the Republican ticket.

Not surprisingly, New Yorkers hold a far higher opinion of themselves than Republicans do. Asked to compare themselves with the average American, New Yorkers rated themselves friendlier, more creative, more family-oriented, moral, religious, honest and patriotic than Republicans were willing to give them credit for.

That's Entertainment

Country music singers Brooks & Dunn, Lee Ann Womack and Travis Tritt are big names on a long list of entertainers scheduled to perform at the convention. The list provided by organizers also includes Ron Silver, Daize Shayne and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Which got us wondering: Exactly what kind of entertainment would Silver (who has been on "The West Wing"), Shayne (the 2004 women's longboard surfing champion) and Hasselbeck (a former "Survivor" contestant married to an NFL quarterback who now gabs on "The View" talk show) provide for the assembled conventioneers?

Turns out Silver and Hasselbeck will merely be attending, part of the free-range celebrity gaggle that now attaches itself to major-party conventions.

Shayne, on the other hand, will sing. She just completed her first album of rock and pop tunes, according to Cheryl Kagan, her publicist, and performed for Bush on the campaign trail two weeks ago. Shayne certainly bears one distinction: She's the only convention participant who will be modeling a line of bathing suits in an upcoming Victoria's Secret catalogue.

Balloon expert Treb Heining has provided the made-for-TV backdrop for the Olympics, the Super Bowl and four other GOP conventions.World longboard champion Daize Shayne won't just crowd surf during the week -- she'll also belt out a song or two.