Wednesday, September 1, 2004

NEW YORK — The word to Republican speakers at the national convention is that bashing Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry is fine.

Unlike Democrats, who put out word that they were editing speeches to tamp down on harsh criticism of President Bush at their convention in Boston in July, the Republicans are not shying away from full-throttle engagement.

Headlining Monday night’s action, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani referred to Mr. Kerry a dozen times, at one point saying the Massachusetts senator might even subjugate U.S. interests to the will of other nations.

“Just a few months ago, John Kerry kind of leaked out that claim that certain foreign leaders who opposed our removal of Saddam Hussein prefer him. Well, to me, that raises the risk that he might well accommodate his position to their viewpoint,” said Mr. Giuliani, prompting the crowd to break into a round of boos.

The Bush campaign said there have been no instructions to tamp down remarks.

“We aren’t shy about pointing out the differences,” said Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt.

The bashing was not lost on Democrats.

Matt Bennett, spokesman for the Democratic Response Team in New York, said Mr. Giuliani attacked Mr. Kerry 15 times in his speech, adding that the remarks were filled with “incredibly raw negativity.”

“All they could do was attack last night. You know why? Because they don’t have a plan to create jobs, to fix health care or win the war on terror,” said Sen. John Edwards, the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee.

Mr. Bush promised a positive message from the convention, but Democrats said his party has failed to deliver it.

At their convention in Boston, Mr. Kerry’s staff said, they examined speakers’ remarks to ensure that they were mostly positive. The campaign’s guidelines for speakers included keeping remarks short, staying to the night’s theme and being positive.

The Associated Press said the Democratic speechwriting team also contacted speakers to deliver the message more forcefully, telling them that criticism of Mr. Bush would be allowed “only as a subtle or indirect dig” when matching the two tickets’ records or vision.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said his party wanted to keep the focus positive to help introduce Mr. Kerry, particularly to attract independent voters it thought would be turned off by negativity.

For Republicans, though, no content guidelines were issued this week.

Spokesmen for several members of Congress who have given speeches or made remarks at the Republican National Convention this week said they only were given direction on the length of the speeches.

“All our candidates were given was a time frame on how much time they were going to have,” said Dan Allen, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which had a handful of candidates speak Monday.

Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, whose candidates spoke Monday as well, said that other than space limitations, “there were no directions given at all.”

Asked last week whether the campaign had told him to keep Kerry bashing to a minimum, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who spoke last night, laughed, “That would be no.”

“Very honestly, the Kerry bashing is not something that I think the party will get into. I think there will be a very explicit discussion of his record, his senatorial record, which is important,” he said. “There will, I think, be more important discussion about George Bush because this election is ultimately about him, not about John Kerry, when you think about it.”

Last night, Mr. Steele had some of the sharpest barbs yet for Mr. Kerry.

“He also recently said that he doesn’t want to use the word ‘war’ to describe our efforts to fight terrorism. Well, I don’t want to use the words ‘commander in chief’ to describe John Kerry,” Mr. Steele said, prompting a rousing round of applause from the delegates.

Last night, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, took his shots at his Senate colleague and his tax policy.

“I’ll tell you what Senator Kerry’s prescription will be: Take a handful of tax increases and don’t call me in the morning,” said Mr. Frist, a heart surgeon.

Mr. Holt said the differences between the parties played out in other ways, too. In Boston, protesters were allowed near the FleetCenter, site of the convention, but only if they stood inside a cage. In New York, protesters have been allowed to march right by Madison Square Garden.

“We are confident enough in our message we’re willing to have a debate about the issues,” Mr. Holt said.

Despite Democrats’ efforts in Boston, Bush bashing made its way onto their podium as well, including in a speech by the Rev. Al Sharpton, former presidential candidate, in which he accused the president of misleading the nation into war.

“If I told you tonight to, ‘Let’s leave the FleetCenter, we’re in danger,’ and when you get outside you ask me, ‘Reverend Al, what is the danger?’ and I say, ‘It don’t matter. We just needed some fresh air,’ I have misled you. And we were misled,” he said.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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