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Democrats Come to Town

The heavy hitters whom Republicans dispatched to Denver last week to lead their “truth squad” efforts were effective in landing a few well-publicized punches.

Now the Democrats will return the favor in Minneapolis as their own star-studded cast of surrogates wades into GOP territory to try to steal some headlines and push an alternative narrative during the Republicans’ week in the sun.

In a sign of the escalation in truth squad efforts since the 2004 conventions, Democrats are also turning to some of their biggest-name surrogates this week, including — as of Friday — Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas), who was vetted as a potential vice presidential pick for Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Other Democratic Members scheduled to make appearances in Minneapolis and St. Paul next week are Reps. Hilda Solis (Calif.) and Betty McCollum (Minn.).

It’s a high-profile cast that seems to indicate that Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, are no longer content to simply send a handful of back-benchers and staffers to be the boots on the ground during the other party’s convention.

Edwards said this year’s intensified truth squad efforts could at least partly be attributed to the timing of the Olympics, which in effect shortened the number of weeks in August that both parties had to focus on their presidential campaign messages.

“This is a serious football game,” Edwards said last week. “I don’t think either party can walk off the playing field for an entire week.”

Preliminary analysis of the GOP efforts in Denver shows that Republicans were successful in pushing their message during the early days of the Democratic National Committee but that effectiveness tapered off sharply towards the end of the week.

“When there wasn’t much organization, not much going on and networks were looking to fill time, that’s when the Republicans were effective,” during the Democratic convention, independent Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli said last week. Ciruli said that on Monday and Tuesday GOP surrogates capitalized on a narrative that many media outlets were trying to push, which was that there might be discord between the Obama camp and those who supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) during the primaries.

The day before the convention began, the Republican National Committee rolled out an ad questioning why Obama didn’t choose Clinton as his running mate. A second spot on the opening day of the convention replayed some of Clinton’s attacks on Obama from the primaries.

But once the Democratic theme of unity took hold midweek with much-lauded speeches by Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, the Republican attacks seemed to gain less traction. By Thursday, the RNC had resorted to attacking the physical platform from which Obama was to give his address at Invesco Field at Mile High that evening. The columned structure, which Republicans described as the “Temple of Obama,” was a major focus of the RNC’s morning memo that day.

Ciruli said he predicts that the Democratic truth squad efforts will probably follow the same pattern of starting strong in the early days of the GOP convention and fading into the background later in the week.

But DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said that the Democrats’ high-profile surrogates and better message will ensure that the GOP knows the Democrats are in Minneapolis all week long.

“They had a bad message,” Woodhouse said of the GOP efforts in Denver. “They tried to say that Democrats are not unified. But Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden blew that message out of the water. … They had a message that lasted about 20 minutes. We’ve got a message that will last the entire convention.”

The DNC began to roll out its “More of the Same” theme for the Republican convention last week with press packets distributed throughout the various media tents in Denver. Those packets included credentials for the Democratic “war room” — located just two blocks from the Xcel Energy Center — as well as fact sheets and even an “Ask Me How Many Houses I Own” button as a swipe at Arizona Sen. John McCain’s much-maligned gaffe last month.

Democratic counter-convention activities will begin each day with breakfasts for credentialed guests followed by morning news conferences and various other events highlighting their daily themes for the GOP gathering.

Monday’s theme will focus on the “More of the Same” tagline that Democrats are attaching to the Republican convention. Democrats, who are seeking to paint a McCain presidency as a third Bush term, are planning to make a lot of noise welcoming President Bush and Vice President Cheney to the Twin Cities ahead of their addresses to the convention Monday night.

Tuesday is scheduled as “reform day,” in which Democrats will focus on lobbying influences on the GOP.

Edwards, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, said he’ll be in Minneapolis this week to raise questions about McCain’s voting record on veterans issues.

“I will be respectful to Sen. McCain’s service in the Vietnam War. … There won’t be any ‘swift-boating’ from me,” Edwards said. But “this presidential race isn’t about honoring the service of one veteran … If [McCain’s] votes [on veterans issues] had prevailed over the years, millions of veterans would have had less benefits.”

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