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Democrats Prepare to Counter Republican Message During Convention

Hoping to stand their ground against Republicans next week, high-profile New York Democrats will fan out across Manhattan to criticize President Bush’s stewardship of the country and urge voters to return their party to power in November.

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and the Empire State’s two Democratic Senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, will headline Democratic National Committee events in an attempt to help counter the GOP message being delivered from the convention stage in Madison Square Garden.

“They represent New York, so it is obvious they would be the ones, among others, who would be taking the lead,” said Matt Bennett, a political consultant to the Democratic National Committee.

The New York Members will be joined by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas), Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe as the Democratic Party’s main spokesmen. Rangel is scheduled to lead the Democratic message on Monday and Clinton will handle the duties on Tuesday.

In addition to the elected Democratic officials, the DNC has deployed 40 staffers to the Big Apple as part of the counter message operation being dubbed as the “Mission Not Accomplished” campaign.

Democrats are hoping to turn the “Mission Not Accomplished” phrase — a twist on the theme Bush championed when he declared an end to combat operations in Iraq last year — against the president.

A billboard declaring “Mission Not Accomplished,” paid for by Democrats, was unveiled near Times Square today.

“The idea is to make it clear that the Bush-Cheney administration may have accomplished their mission for a narrow band of special interests, but they have utterly failed to accomplish the mission of the American people,” Bennett said.

But a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee dismissed the Democratic effort and predicted it would be drowned out by the GOP message.

“The Democratic response team in New York will be about as successful as the Democratic convention in Boston,” said RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson. “That is because the Democrats prefer to focus on attacking the president rather than talking about policies of their own.”

At the DNC’s briefing Monday, Gen. Merrill McPeak, a Bush supporter in 2000, will again declare his support for Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran. The former Air Force Chief of Staff during Desert Storm, McPeak stars in a DNC advertisement in which he claims the Massachusetts Senator will do a better job than Bush as commander-in-chief — a top priority for voters as the nation continues its war on terrorism.

While McPeak will try and make this point in New York, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) will deliver a similar message in his home state. Edwards, the vice presidential nominee, will be joined by retired Gen. Wesley Clark at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where he will condemn Bush’s foreign policy decisions.

The Democrats’ message for Monday is crafted to coincide with the convention’s theme Monday night, which is “courage of a nation.” The GOP will highlight Bush’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the overall war on terrorism. Key speakers on this subject will be former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

In addition to questioning Bush’s foreign policy and domestic agenda next week, Democrats in Manhattan are also going to try to convince voters that Republicans are unusually close to powerful special interests by highlighting events that corporations are sponsoring on behalf of GOP lawmakers.

Democratic officials, though, are being careful not to appear aligned to the throng of protesters who have descended upon New York for the convention, mindful that these demonstrations could turn violent.

“We are totally separate from, and totally uninvolved with any of the demonstration-style protests other than the one’s we are formally coordinating,” Bennett said. “It is completely separate. Certainly, we would strongly oppose any violence or illegal activity.”

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