Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Democrats missed an opportunity at their party's convention in Boston to outline their agenda and discuss the major issues of the campaign -- a mistake he said Republicans won't repeat this week here.
Gillespie said the Democrats focused almost exclusively on Sen. John F. Kerry's (D-Mass.) biography and failed to offer much substance. "They left us an opening for policy and you know the voters care about policy," Gillespie said.
During a 40-minute meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters in a makeshift lounge in the Post's work area next to Madison Square Garden, Gillespie said the campaign made a conscious decision after the Democratic convention to focus on specific issues, including a new White House push for health care spending accounts and a 10-year proposal for redeploying U.S. military forces overseas.
"The president started after Boston dropping some policy proposals into the water," he said. "It's given us a sense of momentum going into the hall. And I think he'll build on it on Thursday night and talk about new policies for a new term."
Gillespie said he has not seen a copy of the president's speech, but he said it will include new domestic policy initiatives that will resonate with voters and help Bush gain in the polls.
"I really didn't expect to be up coming into our convention," Gillespie said referring to recent polls he has seen. "And I am pleasantly surprised that we are."
Gillespie would not speculate on a post-convention "bounce" in Bush's numbers. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken on the eve of the convention showed Bush and Kerry in a statistical dead heat. Bush and Kerry each garner 48 percent of likely voters, with 1 percent supporting independent Ralph Nader. This is unchanged from a survey taken immediately after the Democratic convention.
"I think the more important thing to me than bounce in numbers is durability," Gillespie said. "What I'm looking for is this feeling of momentum."
Gillespie quickly ran through a list of domestic policy items while he sipped bottled water, sticking close to his talking points while discussing the race and the convention's agenda. "This is an interesting election in that there are a lot of issues in play," he said. "It is hard to say what is going to motivate a certain set of voters in a closely contested contest like the one in which we find ourselves."
On Tuesday night, the convention will focus on Bush's personality, featuring a speech by first lady Laura Bush, and highlighting social issues to portray the president's compassion. "This is obviously a convention about President Bush but we want it to be broader than President Bush, we want it to be about our country," Gillespie said.