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Published: Thursday, 7/29/2004

GOP squad ramps up to eye Kerry

BY DENNIS RODDY
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

BOSTON - The Republicans are determined to cast doubt on every word spoken by John Kerry, including "and" and "the." To that end, they have established a Ministry of Truth at 129 Portland St., two blocks from the Democratic convention hall.

Possibly in a nod to the Cheney side of the Bush-Cheney campaign, the counterspin operation has been treated as something of an undisclosed location.

When I phoned to arrange a visit, a maddeningly polite young man explained that the spokesman, Christine Iverson, was not available because she was holding a press conference. Great, I said, give me the address and I'll stop down."

"I'm not at liberty to give you the address, sir," he said. "You're having a press conference," I said.

"Yes sir," he replied.

"But you won't tell me the address?"

"No, I can't," he replied.

"That's nuts," I understated.

"Let me have Christine call you," he said.

Two days later, she did. Press conferences at the GOP site, she explained, are by invitation only.

All across Boston, people are crashing private parties, mooching free beer, and ambushing senators, congressmen, and governors, but to attend a press conference you have to know somebody.

Yesterday, I was met at the lobby by a guard who, after examining a list to see if my name was there, sent me upstairs, where a team of 30 well-scrubbed young Republicans chronicle Senator Kerry's migratory patterns across the political spectrum.

A bank of 15 computers in one room generates e-mails and press releases late into the night.

At the end of the room, twin televisions are permanently fixed on news channels. Brian Jones, a young Bush-Cheney operative from New York, was on the phone.

"As soon as you can, shoot me those three examples from his speech," Mr. Jones told someone. His job is to do a content audit of every speech on the convention floor.

The Democrats have pledged a "positive" convention, with no Bush-bashing.

This is like saying they intend to re-run Michael Dukakis's 1988 campaign, and the Republicans will hold them to their word or paint them as hypocrites.

"One of the things we're here to do is drive stories," Mr. Jones said. "John Kerry said he'd be responsible for everything that happened at the convention."

Mr. Jones and team are now measuring the amount of time speakers use to criticize President Bush versus the amount of time they praise Mr. Kerry versus the mouth candy that makes up most convention speeches. When complete, they will hold a press conference. I already have the address.

Truth Squads are not a new phenomenon in politics.. But the GOP operation here stands out because of its size, organization, and the fact that it must serve a beast of a news cycle that simply doesn't stop.

Cable news channels, Web sites, relentless broadcasts, must all be fed, lest they break their chains and attack the city.

Up a spiral metal staircase from the main offices, a small television studio has been installed. The backdrop says "DemsExtremeMakeover.com" in homage to the Democratic Party's long standing tradition of aiming for the far-middle in search of the electorate's calorie-rich, nougat center.

Saxby Chambliss, the Republican Georgia senator who sounds like Foghorn Leghorn, sat silent for 16 minutes, waiting for CNN's Wolf Blitzer to hook into the GOP studio for rebuttals.

Two technicians wearing GOP-TV golf shirts set up the shot. Then they waited.

And waited. CNN was late.

Heather Layman, a Republican National Committee staffer, looked over the schedule of broadcasters waiting to have Mr. Chambliss beamed to them:

12:06 - CNN.

12:15 - WDSU-NBC, New Orleans.

12:20 - WTLV-NBC, Jacksonville, Fla.

12:45 - WSB-ABC, Atlanta.

1 p.m. - WAGA-Fox, Atlanta.

Yesterday's press conferences were designed around the release of a 10-minute GOP documentary that features nothing but John Kerry giving his position on the Iraq War.

"We're going to distribute it in 8 million e-mails," Ms. Iverson said.

"More people will see that video than watched the Democratic convention last night on the cable outlets."

All they have to do is click on the Internet address provided in the message.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dennis Roddy is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Dennis Roddy at:

droddy@post-gazette.com

or 412-263-1965.



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