Republicans slink into Denver

The GOP has set up a 24-hour rapid-response operation at the Democratic convention, complete with a fence and security guards.

Published August 24, 2008 11:59PM (EDT)

DENVER -- About 15 blocks north of downtown, in a nondescript warehouse that looks vacant from the street, the Republican Party has established a position behind enemy lines.

Two dozen GOP operatives have taken over an accounting firm's office for the week, barricaded themselves in behind a gate monitored by security guards and revved up for a few news cycles' worth of 24-hour rapid response during the Democratic convention. (The office is, even by Republican standards, pretty nice; Republican National Committee communications director Danny Diaz was reveling in the massive wooden desk in his office, usually devoted to spreadsheets instead of spreading opposition research. There's a ping-pong table, too.) RNC staffers arrived on Friday, and some of John McCain's campaign aides will land Sunday night. "We're here to tell the other side of the story and set the record straight," RNC chairman Mike Duncan told me. They don't feel there's any time to let Barack Obama bask in the glow of the convention. "We're going to be sprinting to the finish those final 60 days."

With a satellite hookup ready to beam GOP surrogates to the world, nine flat-screen TVs tuned to cable news and a live video stream on their new Web site for the convention, the Republicans are going to try to get themselves into as much coverage as possible during the week. They're bringing in some heavy hitters -- Mitt Romney on Tuesday, Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday, Tim Pawlenty on Thursday. They've made up some signs that borrow the graphic design look of the convention, with the slogan "A Mile High, An Inch Deep." The idea is to stay relevant and visible in the media coverage of the convention; they're basically hoping for some moments they can pounce on to embarrass Barack Obama.

And yes, mostly, they're looking toward supporters of the junior senator from New York to provide those. "There is great division," Duncan said, citing -- apparently seriously -- conversations he overheard in airports on his way to Denver. "I think you've got two conventions going on here in Denver, and typically, when parties are split, the other party wins." The Republicans will have a happy hour for disgruntled Clinton delegates Monday night, though they didn't seem to be expecting too many visitors.

Of course, the entire setup is basically a gimmick. Technologically, there's no reason they couldn't have done the rapid-response work from the same offices in Crystal City, Va., and on Capitol Hill in Washington, where the McCain campaign and the RNC blast e-mails to reporters usually originate. And news organizations are already used to seeking out GOP comments on, well, anything Obama does, under the auspices of providing balanced (if not fair and balanced) coverage. But you can judge how effective the operation is by how often you see Republican talking points showing up in stories this week. And you can almost certainly expect to see the Democratic National Committee pulling the same kind of stunt in Minnesota at the GOP convention a week later. Turnabout is, after all, fair play.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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