Tuesday, July 27, 2004

BOSTON — The Democrats will be giving Sen. John Kerry “an extreme makeover” at their party’s national convention to cover up the candidate’s 20-year liberal voting record, Republican leaders charged yesterday.

Beginning a daily critique of Mr. Kerry’s record throughout the four-day Democratic gathering, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and a high-level GOP support team vowed that they were not going to let the Democrats get away with what they called a “cosmetic convention.”

The Republicans dubbed their weeklong effort Extreme Makeover 2004 from the hit television reality show on which participants are given a dramatic change in appearance, including plastic surgery.

“We believe that, for the next four days, the Democrats are going to attempt an extreme makeover of John Kerry’s record,” Mr. Gillespie said at a press conference within a block of the FleetCenter convention arena, where Mr. Kerry will be nominated for president later this week.

“We doubt that the Democrats will take the stage to highlight John Kerry’s 350 votes for higher taxes, his votes to cut intelligence and important weapons systems and his vote against the death penalty for terrorists,” the Republican chairman said.

Mr. Gillespie and four other Republican officials then ran down the list of key votes that Mr. Kerry has cast, in most cases voting down the line for the liberal agenda or, in several instances, voting for President Bush’s policies, only to turn around in the primaries to denounce the legislation he had supported, they said.

“If you are a hard-core, extreme Democrat, they should be proud of his record to raise taxes, cut defense spending and impose more government regulations. John Kerry should stand up and be proud of this record,” said Rep. Henry Bonilla, Texas Republican.

Instead, Mr. Bonilla said, Democrats were going to great lengths to discuss anything but Mr. Kerry’s Senate voting record.

Going into this week’s convention, Democratic leaders have said that the senator’s campaign strategy would be to recast himself as a political centrist, as Bill Clinton successfully did at the 1992 convention.

But Republican strategists think the election will be won or lost on how well they can define Mr. Kerry by his Senate votes and the left-of-center positions he took in his presidential primary fight against liberal rivals such as Howard Dean of Vermont.

“What you’ll see at this convention is the Democrats will try to move back to the center, but we’ll try to balance that against their voting record,” said Colorado Gov. Bill Owens. “We’re going to try to hold Kerry and [running mate] John Edwards accountable to what they said during their primary.”

The two major political parties routinely attend each other’s conventions to give the other side of the story, but Mr. Gillespie’s operation appears to be the most extensive to date.

At a temporary press center, backed by about 30 staffers, including data analysts, and banks of computers, the Republican chairman plans to pepper the Democrats and the media with a relentless barrage of facts and figures this week — and, of course, promote Mr. Bush’s four-year record.

Mr. Gillespie will be assisted by a revolving cast of Republican officials and Internet ads (www.DemsExtremeMakeover.com), showing what he says are the contradictions and flip-flops of Mr. Kerry’s positions.

GOP speakers scheduled to appear at today’s press conference include Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin and Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams.

Bush campaign officials think the biggest weakness in Mr. Kerry’s attacks on the president’s policies is that he voted for a number of them — from going to war in Iraq to the president’s education-reform plan.

“We expect you’ll hear Democrats use the term ‘strong leader’ a lot in the next few days,” Mr. Gillespie said. “But we don’t think a strong leader would vote to send our troops to Iraq and then vote to cut off their funding and try to explain his vote, providing eight different reasons, including calling it a protest vote, a proud vote and, most recently, a vote that is too confusing for the American people to understand.”

“We don’t think a strong leader would vote for the No Child Left Behind Act and then campaign against it. We don’t think a strong leader would vote for the Patriot Act and then campaign against it,” he said.

Democratic officials immediately fired back, charging that it was the Republicans who were trying to hide Mr. Bush’s record on the issues.

“The convention that is truly a masquerade ball will be the one that is going to be held by the Republicans in New York,” said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“Unlike the Democratic convention, where Americans will see a united Democratic Party, the Republicans have a list of speakers who disagree with Bush on practically every social issue,” Mr. Cabrera said.

The DNC spokesman was referring to expected convention speakers that will include California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who are both pro-choice.

But at a luncheon briefing with reporters yesterday, sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Gillespie said there will be a diverse list of speakers at next month’s Republican convention that will include Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a staunch pro-life advocate.

Other Republican strategists who are here to help Mr. Gillespie respond to the Democrats said they did not think Mr. Kerry would be as successful as Mr. Clinton was in casting himself as a centrist — for one big reason.

“Clinton did not have a voting record, but Kerry does and it’s way out of the political mainstream,” said Bush campaign strategist Ralph Reed.

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