By Mike Lillis - 08/21/12 05:40 PM EDT
Don't call it sabotage, but as Mitt Romney and the Republicans are taking over Tampa for next week's GOP convention, a sizable crew of Democrats will be there as well, working furiously behind enemy lines in an effort to muffle the GOP message.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), is launching the Democrats' counter attack on Tuesday with a Tampa-based press conference slamming Romney and the Republicans for their opposition to abortion rights — an issue churning intense interest this week in the wake of Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) claim that victims of "legitimate rape" are immune to pregnancy.
The Democrats are keeping most of the details about their push-back strategy close to the vest. But the DNC said Tuesday that Wasserman Schultz will be joined by "leading campaign and party surrogates" who will focus their attacks on Romney's tenure as a successful private-equity executive, as well as the tax, immigration and women's health policies Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have championed on the campaign trail.
In a surprise move, the Obama campaign announced Monday that Vice President Biden will be in Tampa during the GOP convention as well, holding a rally for supporters of the president's reelection campaign. It's uncommon for the parties' top leaders to appear near a rival's convention, traditionally using the time to raise funds and to rest.
"While the [Republicans] will focus on burnishing Romney’s biography as a so-called Mr. Fix It, the [Democrats'] response will be to highlight how his work in the private sector and as [Massachusetts] Governor was a disaster for the middle class," DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said Tuesday in an email. "[T]he policies Romney is espousing on the campaign trail follow the same pattern: raising taxes on middle class families and ending Medicare as we know it while slashing taxes for himself and other millionaires and billionaires."
The Democrats will also go after the other GOP convention speakers, Woodhouse added, charging that "many" of them "represent the most extreme and intolerant voices of their party."
The idea of infiltrating the other party's convention city is neither new nor unique to the Democrats. Because the conventions are staggered, the media glare tends to favor one party at a time during convention season — a dynamic largely allowing each side to spend a week trumpeting its own strengths and messages without much push-back from dissenting voices.
Romney and the Republicans, of course, will own the headlines in Tampa, just like the Democrats will be the stars of the convention coverage from Charlotte, N.C., a week later. The parties historically get a bump in the polls during these self-celebrating events.
The behind-the-lines war rooms are designed to give the opposing party an on-the-ground opportunity to rain on the host party's parade.
Toward that end, the DNC will host daily press events in Tampa "illustrating how out of step Mitt Romney and his policies are with seniors, students veterans and middle class families," Woodhouse said.
There's another more practical reason that both parties want a physical presence at the opponent's convention: not much happens at these events, lending operatives on both sides of the aisle the opportunity to pitch ideas to the swarms of story-hungry reporters who converge on them.
Indeed, for all the hoopla and headlines surrounding the official nominating parties — and for all the A-list figures lining up to attend — the conventions have lost much of the substance and mystery that once defined the four-year events. Barring an enormous plot twist in the next few days, Romney and President Obama are all but certain to walk away the presidential nominees. The rest is largely fluff.
"The conventions aren't the easiest places to find stories, quite honestly," said one Democratic leadership aide, "so [an opposition war room] gives you on-site people to respond to things."
Not that the Republicans won't have their own chance to play spoiler. Obama and the Democrats will be gathering in Charlotte during the first week of September, and GOP operatives have been busy preparing a push-back strategy of their own.