By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
As the thousands of Democrats at the Pepsi Center were hearing an earful of the line “John McCain — more of the same,” the Republicans also were staying on message.
They were peddling their single-minded attack on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The gist is simple — Obama isn’t ready. In fact, that’s the theme of the GOP insurgency: “Not Ready ’08.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was reportedly a finalist to be McCain’s running mate, stopped in Denver during the convention to make the pitch as only the latest in a string of Republican surrogates.
Pawlenty said the basic question Americans should ask themselves about Obama are, “What have you done and what have you run?”
Pawlenty answered his own queries, “Not much and nothing.”
At Pawlenty’s side was U.S. Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl, of Arizona, who argued that, despite the full-throated endorsements made Tuesday and Wednesday by Hillary and Bill Clinton, respectively, they failed to answer the fundamental questions posed by the Republicans about Obama’s inexperience.
“There was no case made, no evidence, because there is no case to be made,” Kyl said.
Rosario Marin, who served as treasury secretary under President George W. Bush, attacked Obama for his opposition to the bipartisan immigration reform bill that McCain and Sen. Ted Kennedy worked on together in 2005.
“(Obama’s) actions betray his words, especially when it comes to immigration reform,” Marin charged.
Pawlenty also said the Republicans are more unified than the Democrats because the GOP had avoided the heated primary race and resulting intra-party dissension that dogged the Democrats.
Republicans, he quipped, won’t suffer from the “buyer’s remorse” that dedicated Hillary Clinton supporters may feel.
Pawlenty was hardly alone, however. Two other high-profile Republicans who stopped in Denver during convention week made exactly the same argument — former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
All in all, Pawlenty’s efforts were just part of a GOP push to counteract the powerful Democratic message that emanated from the convention. Just across I-25 from the Pepsi Center, in a building at 28th Street and Speer Boulevard, the Republican National Committee, in conjunction with the McCain campaign, had set up a war room. Its mission? To undermine Obama’s star power by any means necessary.
“The overall objective was to make sure that regardless of the fact that the opposition camp was here was to make sure that our message was getting out, and the best way to do that was to have people on the ground,” explained Tom Kise, McCain’s regional communications director.
Kise said the war room was in operation from roughly 6 a.m. to midnight each day the convention was in town, and was aided by the campaign’s 24-hour-a-day war room, based in Arlington, Va. In Denver, rotating shifts of about 50 volunteers and 30 staffers were making phone calls and whipping up press releases that criticized Obama and responded to Democratic positions.
For example, the war room had blasted Obama’s economic policy on Tuesday in a press release, and warned that the Democratic approach to fiscal policy would result in “economic disaster.”
The release attacked Obama for his U.S. Senate vote in support of a tax increase that, they said, would have increased the burden on Americans making $42,000 or more. The release charged that during his time in the Senate, Obama voted “against tax cuts and for tax increases 94 times.
One of the highlights of the week, Kise said, was the Thursday evening’s toga-themed public mockery of Obama’s star power and the stage that was erected at Invesco Field, where Obama officially accepted the nomination. The stage was modeled after classic Greek architecture, with columns reminiscent of both Washington, D.C. and ancient Rome.
The Republicans issued a press release the evening before, suggesting “proper attire for the Temple of Obama,” or as they dubbed it, the “Barackopolis.” The release interspersed images of comedian John Belushi, in his famed role in the movie Animal House, with suggested different toga styles ranging from “The nobleman” to “The traditional.”
“One should expect to see such stars as Ben Affleck dress in red robes, along with the lobbyists who fill Invesco Field,” the release joked.
Not all the war room daily press conferences featured GOP VIPs. One spotlighted Colorado Democrats for McCain and included Silver Salazar, cousin of prominent Colorado Democrats U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and his older brother, U.S. Rep. John Salazar.
The campaign also actively recruited disaffected Clinton supporters, including a “Happy hour for Hillary” at the Paramount Café on the 16th Street Mall.
Kise estimates that Pawlenty was only one of perhaps “15 or 20” McCain surrogates to swing through Denver during the week, each of which happily lauded the Arizona senator while blasting Obama.
In a closing act for convention week in Denver, the McCain camp released a lengthy response to Obama’s Thursday night acceptance speech. The campaign charged that Obama made no less than seven “misleading claims” about McCain during his speech, and former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., released a statement saying, “The pomp and circumstance is over, but truth still remains. Barack Obama lacks the experience and judgment to be our commander in chief.”
Among the claims the McCain campaign disputed are suggestions that McCain thinks “great progress” has been made in recent years and that Obama will be able to pay for the far-reaching domestic agenda he espouses. They also rebuffed Obama’s landmark claim Thursday night that America would achieve energy independence within a decade, and cited editorials that claim his energy plan would “do nothing to answer the nation’s long-term energy needs.”
In Kise’s estimation, the GOP succeeded in its aim, which he described as pulling back the curtain on all the DNC’s “glitz and smoke and mirrors.”
“At the end of the week, we felt we were very successful. The message that Barack Obama doesn’t have the necessary experience to be commander in chief was in all the stories,” said Kise.