DNC gets jump on attacking '08 contenders

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has gotten an early jump on the 2008 election by launching an aggressive communications campaign to discredit potential GOP presidential candidates, an effort that has not yet been matched by the Republican National Committee (RNC).

Since the elections, the DNC has aimed a public-relations onslaught at potential Republican candidates, pointing out what it claims are specific inconsistencies in their policy positions.

The DNC has dubbed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney “a smooth talker who only tells voters what he thinks they want to hear rather than admit the inconsistencies in his record.”

It has similarly targeted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), highlighting his recent moves that “pander to the far right.”

The DNC lambasted McCain when he hired Jill Hazelbaker to be his New Hampshire communications director despite suspicions that Hazelbaker intentionally misled reporters with blog posts under fake aliases while working on New Jersey Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr.’s recent campaign. Hazelbaker called the allegations “nonsense” and the McCain camp has not commented on the blog posts.

“Sen. McCain is taking the ‘Double Talk Express’ to a new low,” DNC spokesman Damien LaVera said in a release.

While the DNC’s rhetoric on 2008 has intensified recently, its first presidential salvo was issued a couple weeks before the 2006 election.

A Nov. 14 DNC release went after former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani: “It’s unclear whether or not Rudy Giuliani will be able to just ‘explain away’ the fact that he’s consistently taken positions that are completely opposite to the conservative Republican base on issues they hold near and dear.”

The DNC has also criticized nascent 2008 presidential contenders Mike Huckabee — for being a “fan of Bush’s stubborn Iraq policy” — and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, for not providing a more detailed policy on Iraq.

RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said it has been producing oppositional research on potential Democratic candidates but that those releases are distributed from its research department. The RNC has put out only one release on Democratic presidential hopefuls since the new year, focusing on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and her stance on the Iraq war.

In 2006, the RNC released eight “research briefings” on Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), four on Clinton, one on Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and one on Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), according to its online archive.

The RNC is going through a transitional phase as Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) takes over for Ken Mehlman as chairman.

Stacie Paxton, the DNC’s press secretary, says the PR campaign reflects the DNC’s primary objective of electing the next president. Part of that objective, according to Paxton, is providing accurate research on potential Republican opponents.

“A large part of the DNC’s job is electing a president. Holding Republican candidates accountable to the public is a major aspect of that,” Paxton said.

Paxton also noted that the DNC is still committed to working with Democratic governors and congressional Democrats on their 2008 races.

During the 2006 cycle, DNC Chairman Howard Dean and then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) clashed constantly. The DNC and new DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) are vowing to work together over the next couple of years.