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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

GOP's instant messaging

Republicans respond quickly to events in Denver -- because they can. Watch for a turnabout next week.

August 28, 2008|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Moments after the advance text of Hillary Rodham Clinton's convention speech was released Tuesday night, Republican operatives inside a cramped room in an office building just west of the Democratic National Convention began to pore over it.

Within minutes, they sent out statements noting that Clinton did not address her central criticism of Barack Obama during the Democratic primary -- that he was not ready to be president.

On Wednesday morning, they trotted out Rudolph W. Giuliani and other GOP luminaries to repeat the message at a news conference that they had to move from their rapid-response center to a vacant studio to accommodate the media interest.

On Wednesday afternoon, as a steady stream of journalists squeezed through their compact offices, the Republicans fired off e-mails to reporters highlighting a possible swipe at Obama by former President Clinton.

Four years ago, the parties stayed relatively quiet during their opponents' national conventions. It was more a question of practicality than manners; there was no way to compete with the media din generated by the nomination of a presidential candidate.

But that has changed in this Internet-driven world, in which a constant hunger for new content has helped Republicans occasionally pry the spotlight off the Democrats this week. They have been aided by the tensions between the Clinton and Obama camps that have dominated early coverage of the convention.

"There's a built-in narrative to exploit," said Michael Goldfarb, who writes the blog on John McCain's campaign website.

Democrats plan their own rapid-response operation at the Republican convention next week in St. Paul, Minn.; their war room will be across the street from the arena where McCain will be nominated.

But, if only by virtue of the schedule, the GOP has drawn first blood.

Republicans have tried to impose their own brand on the Democrats' convention, fashioning a logo of a smiling Obama with the words: "Not Ready '08: A Mile High, an Inch Deep."

Young volunteers are dispersed into downtown Denver to show off the image on their T-shirts. It is plastered on the backdrop at party news conferences and the walls of the GOP operations center.

The counter-programming is an extension of the McCain campaign's critique of Obama: that he is a callow celebrity who lacks experience to be commander in chief.

On Sunday, the day before the convention began, the Republican National Committee released an advertisement questioning why Obama did not pick Hillary Clinton to be his vice presidential running mate.

A second McCain spot quoted some of Clinton's attacks on the Illinois senator during the long Democratic primary.

Both ads were played heavily on television news programs.

On Monday, the GOP hosted a "Hillary Happy Hour" during Michelle Obama's prime-time speech, enticing several Clinton supporters to leave the Pepsi Center and join Republicans for cocktails while TV cameras rolled.

On Tuesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a possible McCain running mate, blasted the Democrats in a midday news conference.

That job fell Wednesday to Giuliani, the former New York mayor, who quickly issued the message of the day.

"She left out the key question that lingers," Giuliani said. "What we don't know is if she believes he's ready to be commander in chief."

On Wednesday night, after former President Clinton and Obama's vice presidential pick, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, vouched for Obama's readiness to be commander in chief, the GOP released a Web ad quoting various Democrats -- including Obama, talking about himself -- discussing the Illinois senator's lack of experience.

Back at the rapid-response center, Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the RNC, downplayed the party's spin ambitions for the week.

"This is Barack Obama's week. We recognize that," he said. "Our effort is to ensure distortions leveled against Sen. McCain are corrected and to hold Sen. Obama accountable."

He added: "We've had a good week."

Then he headed to the in-house television studio for a live interview with a Virginia television station.

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nicholas.riccardi@ latimes.com

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