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September 19, 2014

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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION: The Republicans:

Outside the arena, the tribes clamor

Opposition’s goal is well defined this convention season: Divert and distract

Image

Leila Navidi

Republicans, from left, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, share a laugh during a news conference Tuesday in Denver. The party scheduled press events such as this one on Democrats’ turf this week to steal some of the media coverage.

Click to enlarge photo

Beck Gudmundson, left, of Salt Lake City and Mark Streeter of Bountiful, Utah, hold up political signs Tuesday in Denver.

Intentionally or not, the Republicans pulled off a fairly brilliant political move that probably can’t be used again: Invite the press corps to hear potential Republican presidential running mate Mitt Romney speak a mile or so away from the core of the Democratic convention activities downtown.

Of course the press would come.

But how they would get back to the Democratic activities downtown was less clear.

No taxis in sight. No bus. No shuttle service.

Just dozens of reporters stranded in a semi-industrial outpost trying to return to the Democratic National Convention on a very hot summer afternoon.

They were away from the action a good two hours.

Republicans have set up a war room here, unwilling to cede any minute of convention coverage to the Democrats. Fortified with an army of two dozen staffers, they’re trying to steer the conversation away from Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic hopeful whose name and image are everywhere here, and toward Republican contender Sen. John McCain.

Republicans are holding press events and putting party leaders on the phone in conference calls, as they did Tuesday afternoon in one with Nevada reporters. They’re pumping up the McCain supporters, those spoilers who are walking around wearing “Nobama” shirts and whatnot in a town full of Democrats.

Next week in St. Paul, Minn., Democrats will do the same.

In fact, they’re already there, getting ready.

Historians say it wasn’t always like this.

Back when political conventions were true presidential nominating contests, each party would pause while the other was holding its event, allowing a break in the mudslinging before the campaigns began in earnest.

Now, parties use the conventions as the opening ad in the fall race, said Julian Zelizer, a professor at Princeton who writes extensively on American politics.

The result is an extension of the partisan atmosphere that many voters believe is part of the problem with Washington.

Zelizer can’t pinpoint it exactly — or say which party went first — but opposition party appearances at conventions have been standard for the past several cycles.

“It is partisanship reaching into one more aspect of our political system,” Zelizer said.

“It builds on itself, moreover, as it will only intensify partisan rhetoric to come out of conventions.”

As prime time coverage was about to get under way Tuesday, former Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani was ducking into an elevator at the Pepsi Center.

The Republican war room announced he will be the party’s guest speaker today.

Maybe reporters won’t make a journey of that kind again. The Giuliani news conference is being held at a location even farther from the one Tuesday. The Republicans announced shuttles will be provided — from the war room.

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