In a modern production studio about a mile from where the Democrats were opening their convention here Monday, a SWAT team of Republican operatives dispatched to crash Sen. Barack Obama’s party was reveling in its accomplishments.
Two new advertisements devised to stoke the sore feelings of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s devotees were being widely covered online and on cable news channels; a news conference the Republicans produced of former Clinton supporters who said they were now backing Sen. John McCain drew a standing-room-only crowd of reporters; a “Happy Hour for Hillary” cocktail party was planned, to be followed by an appearance by McCain on “Tonight” with Jay Leno.
There was a time when the opposition party more or less ceded the stage to the convening party during its convention, under the assumption that breaking through the news coverage would be next to impossible anyway. Over the past few presidential election cycles, as Washington became more bitterly partisan, that began to disintegrate, helped along by a proliferation of new media outlets that created growing opportunities to spread negative messages.
But on the first day of the Democratic convention, it was clear to members of both parties that this year will break new ground, with each side planning to run full bore during the other party’s convention. Matt McDonald, a senior aide overseeing the Republican effort, said, he was “pleasantly surprised” by the operation’s success in inserting itself into the biggest week of the Obama campaign. “Any time we can get our side of the story out,” McDonald said, “that’s a good thing.”
Democrats say they will be no less aggressive during the Republican convention next week.
Even four years ago, the campaign of President Bush, whose war room was as intense as any before it, ran no advertisements against Sen. John Kerry as he prepared to accept the Democratic nomination in Boston. Since this weekend, the McCain campaign and the Republican Party have released three advertisements aimed at picking up disaffected Clinton supporters. In one, Clinton is quoted questioning Obama’s resume and saying: “Sen. McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign. I will bring a lifetime of experience.”