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Thursday, August 30, 2012

In Tampa, the Obama Campaign Has Its Own War Room


TAMPA, Fla. - The awning over the door says “American Institute of Architects.”

But inside the message on a lectern and a backdrop reads “Romney Economics: Wrong for the Middle Class.”

Welcome to the Obama campaign's mobile war room, a 30-person pop-up shop in a storefront one block beyond the security perimeter of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the Republican National Convention is being held, and dedicated to pushing back against the hurricane-strength messaging of the Republicans.

“There are now 70 days left until the election, and we're not going to cede any one of them,” said Stephanie Cutter, the president's deputy campaign manager, who has relocated to Tampa from Chicago along with Ben LaBolt, the campaign press secretary, and a rapid-response team. As Republican luminaries command the attention of millions in prime time, the war room wages its guerrilla counteroffensive, dumping into reporter s' e-mail in-boxes messages like “FACT CHECK: Factory Closing Ryan Cited Happened Under President Bush.”

And on Thursday morning, the folding tables were cleared away, and the cramped storefront turned over to a news conference to try to dismantle Representative Paul D. Ryan's convention-rocking speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination the night before.

Mr. Ryan was hypocritical for criticizing Mr. Obama for doing “exactly nothing” when a debt reduction panel he appointed “came back with an urgent report,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, a co-chairman of the president's campaign.

Mr. Durbin sat with Mr. Ryan on the bipartisan panel, the Simpson-Bowles committee, whose final report Mr. Ryan and the other House Republicans rejected because it included tax increases along with spending cuts.

“So they can stand there with their deficit clock ticking in the background,” Mr. Durbin said, referring to a convention-hall prop, “but t hey've got to explain why their candidate for vice president voted against President Obama's deficit reduction plan,” and “now criticizes the president for it.”

Mr. Ryan said at the time he voted against the plan because it relied too much on tax increases and didn't address what he considered the key driver of the deficit, the growth of health care entitlements. He worked with Alice Rivlin, a Clinton administration official, to include a voucherlike reform of Medicare, but the plan was voted down.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, who serves on the budget committee with Mr. Ryan, said his image as “Mr. Fiscal Responsibility” omits the fact “he voted for every single policy proposal by President Bush that exploded our deficit,” including expanding Medicare drug benefits, tax cuts and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “To suggest that Paul Ryan is fiscally responsible,” she said, “is ludicrous.”

A spokesman for Mr. Ryan said the attacks were trying to shift the focus from Mr. Obama's record on the economy.

“Instead of admitting that his policies have led to record unemployment, debt that puts our economy at risk and programs that have grown government at the expense of the private sector, President Obama continues to double down on the same false attacks and policies that have done nothing to fix our economy,” the spokesman, Brendan Buck, said in a statement.

Looking to Mitt Romney's acceptance speech Thursday evening, the war room flew in a former Democratic mayor of North Adams, Mass., John Barrett. With about 30 reporters in the room, he castigated Mr. Romney's one term as governor. Mr. Romney's claim not to have raised taxes while balancing budgets omits that he raised $700 million in fees, Mr. Barrett said, while cutting state aid to cities that led to higher property taxes to pay for schools and public safety.

“School districts were forced to charge fe es for everything from sports programs to riding the bus,” Mr. Barrett said. “If you looked at the record, you'd know this guy is a fake.”

Ms. Cutter said the Democrats' real response to the Republican convention would come next week in North Carolina, when the president is renominated with, his campaign hopes, the same gale-force blast of publicity for his message.