BOSTON – In a small two-story office in the shadow of the Fleet Center, home of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Dan Ronayne is one Marylander who’s not toeing this week’s party line.
While the 110 members of Maryland’s delegation to the convention are in Boston supporting Sen. John Kerry, Ronayne is here trying to keep President Bush right where he is.
Ronayne, 33, a Hyattsville native and alumnus of Northwestern High School and the University of Maryland, is a member of the Republican “hit squad,” providing quick responses to the opposing party’s political message.
When he’s not detailed to the GOP war room at the Republican Rapid Response Headquarters, he’s a spokesman for the Bush campaign.
Wednesday morning, the cramped headquarters was a scene of controlled chaos. Ronayne and the rest of the rapid-response staff were busy preparing for their day, evaluating the Democrats’ every statement for inconsistencies and exaggerations that would make Kerry vulnerable.
“We’re trying to put the proper frame around this convention,” Ronayne said. “It’s an extreme makeover of John Kerry’s record. He has a 20-year record as a United States senator, but we’ve heard very little about his record.”
The rapid-response team is something of a broken record by design, continually reiterating the same message all week in a variety of ways.
In case anyone forgets what the goal is, the back wall of the room is adorned with posters displaying the National Journal’s liberalism rating for major Democratic figures, arranged left to right, from highest to lowest. On the right sits Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy of Massachusetts with an 88. On the left is Kerry with a 97. Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, is tied with Maryland’s Sen. Paul Sarbanes at 95. Poster-size enlargements of The Boston Herald’s July 7 front page, proclaiming that Kerry and Edwards are “Left of Ted,” round out the motif.
Just before 10 a.m., Ronayne positions Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerick and Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Patrick McCrory to make their case to about 30 reporters.
Downstairs in the “war room,” Republican National Committee and Bush campaign staffers scrambled about, scouring the news for assertions made by Democrats in order to “fact check” them.
Ronayne boasts that his people can verify or debunk a statement by Democrats within minutes. And his shop is responsible for a sharp-edged, 11-minute documentary — patterned after “Fahrenheit 9/11” — on Kerry’s shifting position on Iraq. The film is set to the music of the old television show “Flipper.”
The center is staffed 24 hours every day during the convention, and is equipped with a satellite feed to beam instant, live rebuttals to TV stations nationwide.
“A lot of iced coffee and Diet Coke is consumed,” Ronayne said. “We’re a great friend of the Dunkin’ Donuts and 7-Elevens of downtown Boston.”
Once the news conference begins, Chambliss, McConnell, Kerick and McCrory are ushered underneath the bright lights, and Ronayne is temporarily relieved of his responsibility for the day — piloting McCrory through a maze of media engagements that will last until mid-afternoon. But in minutes, when reporters exhaust their questions, the respite is over.
When the news conference is over, the place is mobbed with reporters, all of whom seem to want a piece of McCrory, and Ronayne springs into action. He dutifully runs McCrory through the gantlet, slinging business cards left and right.
“You can contact me . . . just get in touch with me,” he said, while nudging McCrory toward the elevator — Fox News is waiting at the Boston Harbor Hotel. After that, MSNBC, then some satellite feeds.
Once downstairs, he hit another snag — the car that was supposed to be waiting is not waiting. It’s outside the security perimeter.
Ronayne leads McCrory down the block and into the relative safety of the backseat of a Lincoln Town Car. McCrory just might make Fox on time. Another media disaster narrowly averted.
-30- CNS 07-28-04