President Bush's operatives have spent months acquiring and cataloging snippets of videotape of past interviews and speeches by Sen. John F. Kerry and will dispense them during the Democratic National Convention to try to counterprogram the message from inside FleetCenter.
The president is sticking to tradition and remaining out of sight during his opponent's convention. Bush, instead, will make his Secret Service agents chase his mountain bike through the hills of his 1,600-acre ranch in 98-degree heat.
Bush's campaign, however, will have its busiest week since it opened for business 14 months ago. Because Bush did not have primaries to worry about, his campaign and the Republican National Committee have been focused on the Democratic convention longer than Kerry has. The GOP has leased a two-story office, known as "The Bunker," two blocks from FleetCenter to house more than 30 workers, including 10 researchers.
Kerry's campaign contends there is nothing extraordinary about these efforts, and called them refinements of rapid-response techniques that Democrats pioneered. Democrats will have a similar apparatus when Republicans convene in Manhattan in late August.
Matthew Dowd, the Bush-Cheney campaign's chief strategist, issued a report early this month asserting that "historical analysis suggests John Kerry should have a lead of more than 15 points coming out of his convention." Republicans acknowledged that was partly an effort to set unrealistic expectations. But given Bush's low approval ratings, such a Kerry bounce could be disastrous for the president's campaign. So the Republicans' Boston spin machine is aimed at ensuring the prediction does not come true.
Bush's ads will go off the air for convention week. But the video clips, a daily 10 a.m. news conference, a new Web site and a stream of interviews with high-profile Republicans -- at least 90 for television and 112 for radio on Monday alone -- will propagate the GOP theme of "Extreme Makeover," which the party said is a play on words to suggest Kerry is trying to foster an image as a judicious moderate when he has the record of an out-of-the-mainstream liberal. Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman told reporters that the Democrats will hold a "cosmetic convention" aimed at creating a new image for Kerry or providing "a bold defense . . . from someone who, for 19 years, has had to win elections in Massachusetts and has been happy to do it."
As part of the campaign's unusually combative stance during the opposition convention, Vice President Cheney is giving up fly-fishing at his Wyoming ranch to carry the message throughout the West with several appearances during the week. The Bush-Cheney campaign has also announced Truth Squads in such battleground states as Missouri and Florida, and they will hold daily events aimed at local news outlets.
RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie kicked off the drive Saturday by releasing a poll of 500 Bay Staters that he said showed "Massachusetts voters, who do know the senator best, believe that as president he would raise taxes, tighten gun control laws and cut defense spending."
Gillespie will be among the GOP "surrogates" who will appear Monday on everything from "Mayhem in the AM" on WQXI-AM in Atlanta to Wisconsin Public Radio. Scott Hogenson, the RNC's director of radio services, said the mission is to argue "how bogus the convention is and how flippish and floppish the senator is." A similar booking operation for television is trying to place Republicans on every station in every targeted media market in the toss-up states.
Bush-Cheney communications director Nicolle Devenish said all this is aimed at undecided voters and at reassuring the president's supporters when they are being barraged with the Democratic line, and she contended that even Democrats "will be interested in hearing the other side."
For voters just tuning in, the new GOP Web site (www.DemsExtremeMakeover.com) offers a 17-page report on Kerry ("a flip-flopping Massachusetts liberal out of touch with America") and a 22-page critique of his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), described as "a disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal and friend to personal injury trial lawyers."
Bush will return to Washington late Thursday, as the convention closes. The president's staff will treat Friday and Saturday as the opening of the fall campaign, with rallies in Missouri and Michigan on Friday and a bus trip through Ohio and Pennsylvania on Saturday.