- The Washington Times - Monday, July 19, 2004

President Bush has ceded the national media spotlight to Sen. John Kerry for the rest of the month, resigning himself to nonstop press coverage of the political opposition that will climax in next week’s Democratic National Convention.

“It’s kind of their month,” Bush campaign spokesman Nicolle Devenish said of the Democrats. “They are going to, for most of the month, dominate the news in a largely positive way.”

Consequently, the president will retreat to his Texas ranch on Friday afternoon and lie low until the Democrats’ convention ends six days later. It will be the completion of a presidential vanishing act that began two weeks ago, when Mr. Kerry named Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina as his running mate.

Seeking to capitalize on excitement over the selection, the Democrats have granted a flurry of interviews to national news outlets including Time, Newsweek, USA Today, the New York Times, Reuters and the Associated Press.

By contrast, Mr. Bush has contented himself with granting interviews to smaller, regional newspapers, including the Toledo (Ohio) Blade, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Wheeling (W.Va.) Intelligencer-News Register.

“We have a very different communications strategy,” Mrs. Devenish said. “Just because our picture’s not on the cover of Time with a profile doesn’t mean we’ve [gone] dark by any stretch of the imagination.

“The president, as a former governor, understands that most people get their news from the local media,” she said. “It’s like the tortoise and the hare.”

But Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade said Mr. Bush is not the only candidate granting interviews to regional reporters.

“We are also investing enormous amounts of time in local press. We’ve made that a priority from the start of the campaign,” said Mr. Wade. “It’s critical to be on the air on the local news, to be visiting local ed boards, to be talking to the local print reporters — whether in Detroit, Minnesota, Ohio, or Pennsylvania or West Virginia.

“Not a trip goes by that we’re not doing that, or satelliting into battleground markets, or doing conference calls with those newspapers,” he said.

By granting interviews to news organizations that are regional but not national, the president is essentially letting Mr. Kerry have his moment in the sun. Next month, however, Mr. Bush hopes to catch up with Mr. Kerry by making a splash of his own that culminates in the Republican National Convention.

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign continues to match the Kerry campaign in other fronts of the communications wars. Vowing never to let an attack go unanswered, the Bush campaign’s rapid response team has been working overtime to counter rhetoric by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards.

There has also been a concerted effort to keep Mr. Bush on the campaign trail two to three days a week. Since he can travel to only a small number of battleground states each week, other states are visited by first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, all of whom routinely give interviews to local and national talk radio programs along the way.

Mrs. Bush has also granted interviews to USA Today, Fox News Channel, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC in recent weeks. In addition, she and Mrs. Cheney regularly give informal press conferences, known as press “avails,” while on the campaign circuit.

“Mrs. Bush gives media avails after nearly every open press event that she has,” said campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise, who coordinates much of the media outreach effort.

“Mrs. Cheney gave one last month in Los Angeles as well,” she said. “They are reaching many markets without doing actual one-on-ones.”

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