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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

GOP Works Overtime at Nearby Spin Factory

Republicans put together a coordinated response to the Democrats' message. 'It's about getting our story told,' one says.

August 16, 2000|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hours before the Democratic stars hit the stage at Tuesday night's convention, their opponents huddled across the street fashioning their words into weapons for George W. Bush.

Here at the Republicans' Victory 2000 response operation, a squad of 20 political operatives is working around the clock in a suite of rented offices to dissect the Democrats' convention and prepare a daily GOP message for a team of Republican personalities to convey through media interviews.

On Tuesday, at the regular 7:30 a.m. conference call meeting with Austin, Texas, headquarters, aides picked out the theme Gore was using to underscore that he will continue the economic prosperity--"You ain't seen nothing yet."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves, one aide said, twisting the phrase to suggest the administration hasn't delivered on policies like Social Security or tax cuts. It didn't take the group long to agree on the sound bite.

Minutes later, an aide in the Republicans' Victory 2000 response operation was typing up the day's "talking points," a sheet that would direct Bush surrogates across the country how to respond to the Democrats' speeches for the next news cycle.

Republicans have gathered in Los Angeles about half a dozen so-called surrogates--elected officials from state and federal offices, most in competitive states. At a briefing for them Tuesday, Victory 2000 communications chief Terry Holt outlined the daily points, noting that the GOP has dubbed the Democrats' gathering Gore's "reinvention convention."

"Those words need to be uttered at every opportunity," Holt said.

Half an hour later, just before 10:30 a.m., reporters filter into the office to attend the GOP's daily press conference. Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore, one of the GOP surrogates, takes the microphone to welcome them to Gore's "reinvention convention." Noting the Democrat theme, Gilmore issues the GOP's message: "We couldn't have said it any better than that."

That message was broadcast to more than the dozen or so reporters gathered in the suite. Around them were four glass-enclosed offices reserved for the Bush surrogates to conduct telephone interviews with local radio and television outlets nationwide. (GOP bookers had their surrogates conduct 28 radio interviews before 11 a.m. Tuesday.)

"The diffusion of message [through multiple media] really demands that you have an integrated approach and that you not leave any media behind," Holt said. "It's not about screwing up the other guy's story. It's about getting our story told."

A doorway down the hall opens onto the building's roof, where a makeshift TV studio connected to a satellite truck in the parking lot is used to press Bush's case in live interviews with local anchors back home.

Throughout the day, GOP bookers cold-call TV news desks in media markets in competitive states to offer live interviews with prominent Republicans. (Monday, they said they called about 200 stations but ended the day having gotten their surrogates on only about a dozen programs, including some all-news cable channels.)

The GOP also prepares canned material, including Spanish-language interviews with Republicans, and posts it on a satellite it has reserved for five hours a day. Then it faxes a schedule to TV stations across the country with the technical coordinates to access the material.

In Staples Center below, the Democrats' are running a similar effort, crafting talking points and working feverishly to book interviews in their own TV and radio booths. Radio stations can also call a toll-free number to reach the Democrats' elaborate voice mail system offering "'actualities"--canned audio quotes--from nearly every Democratic official and delegate in town. Using a telephone keypad, station personnel can enter the name of any elected official here to see if they've posted a recording.

GOP researchers are also making use of technology to deliver extensive response papers to the 5,000 or so politicians and GOP-allied activists on their e-mail list.

The Republicans at Victory 2000 pulled together a response to the convention's Tuesday night lineup of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, which they headlined, "Los Angeles Hit by Tremors in Al Gore's Base." Using quotes from dissident Democrats (culled from the online database Lexis-Nexis by the research staff in Washington and e-mailed to Los Angeles) and pictures found on the Internet, one aide assembled the paper portraying the Democrats as a party with a rift between its liberal and moderate wings.

One GOP talker, Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, made the rounds on "radio row" Tuesday afternoon, stopping to make use of the airwaves on WABC's conservative Sean Hannity program. With the morning talking points in front of him, Blackwell told the host, "Tonight's [Democratic] theme is 'You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet.' You know what? We haven't."

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