Friday, September 03, 2004

CONVENTION NOTEBOOK: DAY 4

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Sept. 3, 2004


NEW YORK _ Just a few blocks south of Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue, there’s a building with a huge banner reading “Save America. Defeat Bush.”

And on the 15th floor of the building is a complex of offices filled with 30-50 people -- both paid staff and volunteers -- dedicated to the idea expressed on that banner.

Welcome to the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee’s Convention Response Team, spearheading the Democrats’ fight to keep their message and their candidate John Kerry from getting buried by the overwhelming amount of GOP-related news during the week of the Republican convention.

The idea isn’t new. Republicans had a similar operation in Boston when the Democrats met in convention.

There’s a television studio and a radio studio used for recording Democratic spokesmen responding to convention speeches. There’s an office where people arrange for Democratic leaders to appear on t.v. and radio news shows.

There are offices dedicated to organizing press conferences and events around the city during the convention.

And there’s even workers there who are engaged in what could be described as “psychological warfare” against Republican delegates.

Kevin Wardally, the New York campaign director for the response team, said he intended to put campaign posters -- ones with the slogans “Mission Not Accomplished” and “America Can Do Better” on lampposts around delegate hotels.

When police nixed that idea, Wardally said his workers called every Democratic and independent voter in the surrounding neighborhoods to put signs with the Kerry slogans in their windows.

Wardally also organizes Kerry supporters wearing T-shirts with those slogans to show up at live televised programs such as morning news shows that take place outside.

But the real nerve center of the operation is “The War Room,” in which about a dozen researchers sit at tables with their laptops monitoring news on seven television sets.

On the walls in the windowless room are common Democratic messages to be stressed: “Lost 1.8 million private sector jobs.” “Family income down by $1,400.”

There also are unflattering photos of convention speakers such as Vice President Cheney and Sen. Zell Miller, D- Georgia.

When they hear something they consider inaccurate or contradictory from a Republican, the laptop warriors research it, write up press releases and zap it to reporters around the land.

But one thing the response team -- which will pull up stakes in New York today because the convention is over -- isn’t responsible for. The “Defeat Bush” banner actually is the work of a labor group called UNITE!, which is headquartered in the building.

A word from the “real people.”

A New Mexico woman was part of a Thursday press conference organized by the response team.

Loretta Grund, a retired Veterans Administration nurse from Albuquerque was one of several “real people” (as opposed to “political hacks,” one supposes) who were flown to New York for just one day in order to tell reporters why they don’t support President Bush’s reelection.

Grund, who retired in December after 24 years with the VA hospital said while there are 600 new patients being treated, there are fewer doctors and physicians assistants to help them.

She said she volunteered for the Kerry campaign in the New Mexico caucus early this year because she likes Kerry’s record on the environment.

Where’s Bill?

One Democrat not heard from during the Republican convention is Gov. Bill Richardson.

Earlier this week the governor’s office released a statement that out of his deep respect for political parties to have conventions without criticism, he would make a huge sacrifice, at least for someone who loves the national limelight.

“Gov. Bill Richardson today announced that he would not accept any national media requests during the Republican National convention and that he would honor the convention period by not criticizing the Bush Administration during the four days the Republicans are gathered in New York City,” the statement said.

“The governor went on to say that he wishes the New Mexico Republican delegates well at the New York City Convention and urges them to proudly promote the state at every opportunity in concert with the New Mexico Department of Tourism,” the statement said.

Although Richardson was avoiding the national news, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish was interviewed by phone Thursday for Battleground, a show on ABC Now, ABC’s new 24-hour digital television channel.

He probably already knew

New Mexico delegate Darren White -- the sheriff of Bernalillo County -- was one of 10 delegates selected to officially inform President Bush Thursday that he’d been nominated for President.

White said the honorary duty is left over from the wild old days of politics when conventions were full of floor fights and back-room wheeling and dealing, so candidates often weren’t sure if they’d won the nomination.

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