Presidential candidates have traditionally kept a low profile during their opponent’s nominating celebration, but Democrats are throwing those rules out the window in an attempt to spoil Mitt Romney’s coronation as the GOP nominee.
President Obama, Vice President Biden and leading congressional Democrats have all scheduled high-profile events next week to counter-program the Republican gathering in Tampa, Fla.
Even first lady Michelle Obama is in on the act, scheduling an appearance on the “David Letterman Show” smack in the middle of Romney’s nominating bash.
“Traditionally, there was a kind of courtesy extended to the party having the convention — the [other] party would basically stay out of the public eye,” said Ross Baker, political scientist at Rutgers University.
But that “gentlemen’s agreement,” Baker said, has been largely abandoned as “a consequence of the polarization of American politics.” He characterized the old tradition as a “quaint code of etiquette” destined to become a “remnant of the 20th century.”
Julian Zelizer, a congressional expert at Princeton University, agreed that the change is coming in large part because of the modern media environment.
“In the current age, saturating the media seems to be the strategy — get the message out as many times and in as many places as possible,” Zelizer said in an email. “So this fits [the] contemporary pattern, where the convention is just one part of a bigger media blitz.”
Democrats have made clear that they don’t intend to fade into the background as the GOP’s message machine cranks away in Tampa.
Obama announced this week that he’s hitting the road next Tuesday for a two-day tour through the battleground states of Iowa, Colorado and Virginia. The first lady’s sit-down with Letterman is scheduled to air Wednesday.
The most aggressive attack was left for Biden, who is heading behind enemy lines for campaign events in Tampa on Monday and Tuesday. Leading congressional Democrats, including Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), will be joining the vice president to help crash the party.
With the media glare certain to be intense, Democrats say they’re approaching the GOP convention as an opportunity as much as a challenge.
“We’ll have so many members of the press [here] from all across the country,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D), who represents Tampa, said Tuesday by phone. “I’m going to have a very active schedule.”
While both parties have customarily set up messaging war rooms in their opponent’s convention city, Democratic operatives say they’re taking that effort to another level this year.
“It’s gonna be the strongest yet,” a Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday.
The purpose of the Democratic blitz is clear: With Romney and the Republicans scrambling to defend Romney’s tax history and undo the damage from Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) recent comments on rape and abortion, Obama and the Democrats don’t want to give the GOP a weeklong opening to shift the discussion back to jobs and the economy — Obama’s chief vulnerability heading into November’s elections.
The Republicans’ convention messaging will be thrown off, Baker said, “If Joe Biden goes to Tampa and says, ‘Where’s Todd Akin?’ ”
Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), said the Democrats in Tampa would focus on “how the Republican Party Mitt Romney is being nominated to lead is outside the mainstream on issues of importance to Americans — particularly as it relates to women, Hispanics and African-Americans.”
Republicans, meanwhile, are also setting up a war room in Charlotte, N.C., to hobble any momentum the Democrats might gain when they stage their convention there in the first week of September.
GOP operatives have released very few details about that effort, however, and have given no indication they will counter Biden’s Tampa visit by sending anyone as high-profile — such as Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — to campaign in North Carolina.