BOSTON – Just blocks away from the FleetCenter (search), Republicans have set up a "war room" to fire back at Democratic charges against the Bush administration and GOP leaders were at their posts early Monday at the start of the four-day convention.
"We believe that for the next four days, the Democrats are going through an extreme makeover of John Kerry's (search) record," portraying a liberal Massachusetts senator as a moderate presidential candidate, said Republican national chairman Ed Gillespie.
"Senator Kerry's 20-year Senate voting record is a long shadow the Democrats will try to hide with lights, camera and rhetoric this week," Gillespie said. "For one night they may succeed, but Senator Kerry will never be able to shake his voting record between now and November."
The reality show that is the Democratic convention is a time for the party faithful to pull out all the stops to emphasize the policies and personality of their presumptive nominee for the White House this November. Republicans will do the same at the end of next month in New York.
In a gentlemen's agreement, the other party generally lays low while the convention proceeds. President Bush (search) is at his ranch in Texas, staying out of sight and spending his time receiving staff briefings and reading the Sept. 11 commission report released last week. He has taken time to talk by telephone with campaign aides to map out the month of August, during which he will spend all but three days on the road.
Vice President Dick Cheney is on the campaign trail. He began a three-day tour Monday that includes Washington state, Oregon, California and Utah. He will be campaigning for fellow Republicans and speaking to troops throughout the convention.
In the meantime, other Republican notables are making their small presence known in Boston, a largely Democratic city in a largely Democratic state that has elected a Republican governor and lieutenant governor.
Gov. Mitt Romney (search) told a morning news show on Monday that just because the convention is in Boston doesn't mean the city has experienced a change.
"People were asking me last night what it's like having so many Democrats in town, and I said I don't notice any difference. We have that every single day."
But the Republican governor avoided the war room on Monday, focusing instead on security surrounding the convention, said Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (search).
Healey, who joined Gillespie on Monday at the news conference, along with Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, offered the Republicans' contrasting view of Kerry and the Democrats.
Healey recalled to reporters that Kerry once held her job, as lieutenant to Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1988 who was painted by then-Republican nominee George H.W. Bush as a Massachusetts liberal out of touch with most of America.
"I'm very proud of my governor, Governor (Mitt) Romney," she said. "I don't think we'll see Lt. Gov. Kerry standing with Mike Dukakis during the course of this convention."
Republicans would like to repeat the success in 1988 this year, but also are trying to avoid making their presence too well known.
"We're behind enemy lines and we're well aware of that fact," Gillespie said in an earlier interview. "But we can't allow baseless charges to go unanswered."
Nonetheless, the Republican war room fills two floors of a nondescript, red-brick building near the FleetCenter, the downtown arena where the convention is being held.
In a research area of the war room, computer screens lining four walls are occupied by RNC staffers who scour the Internet, monitor convention coverage and field media calls. Whatever available walls are left are filled with images of the Democratic candidates for president and vice president. Listed next to them is the National Journal rating of their voting records. Kerry's is the most liberal; North Carolina's John Edwards is No. 4.
A Boston Herald front page pictures Kerry and Edwards with the headline: "They're left of Ted! GOP: Dem team more liberal than Kennedy."
The GOP war room in Boston is similar to the Bush campaign's war room in Arlington, Va. Both are modeled after Bill Clinton's campaign war room in 1992, designed to respond rapidly to all opposition charges.
Fox News' James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.