PHILADELPHIA - While Republicans are vowing to remain positive at their national convention opening here today, the Democrats are wasting no time accentuating the negative against the presumptive Republican ticket of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
On the eve of the opening gavel, the Democratic National Committee released a television commercial hammering at Cheney, to be aired starting today in 17 states, including Maryland.
It notes Cheney's votes when he was a congressman from Wyoming against the Clean Water Act in 1987, Head Start funding in 1984 and 1986, the School Lunch and Child Nutrition Act in 1985 and health insurance for the jobless.
"Cheney, an oil company CEO, said it was good for OPEC to cut oil production so oil and gasoline prices could rise," the advertisement says.
At the same time, a "Texas Truth Squad" of about 20 Texas Democrats arrived here, underwritten by the DNC, warning the nation against what they called Bush's damage to education and the environment in Texas. The group traveled by bus on the same route Bush is taking to Philadelphia.
Molly Beth Malcolm, the Texas Democratic Party chairwoman, told a news conference that the Texas governor's rhetoric "does not match his record," likening him to "a summer blockbuster movie" that gets a great build-up but when you see it, "it's a dud."
The ad and the Texas Democrats are part of a convention-long effort by the DNC to rain on Bush's nomination parade, featuring daily speakers from the party in Philadelphia each day who will criticize the convention's daily theme.
Today, Gov. Parris N. Glendening of Maryland is to join the attack as the convention focuses on the theme "Leave No Children Behind."
The Philadelphia effort is an adjunct of a Gore campaign operation that is scouring Bush and Cheney records to try to throw the Republican team on the defensive at their own convention.
The tactic is reminiscent of the celebrated "rapid response" effort of the 1992 Clinton campaign that issued swift answers to revelations about Clinton's personal life and record and was widely credited at the time with helping to save his candidacy.
This time, the Bush campaign has a rapid-response squad to meet Democratic attacks head-on. Even before the new anti-Cheney ads were on the air, Ari Fleischer, a Bush spokesman, issued a point-by-point rejection of the Democratic charges.
Fleischer said: "Al Gore's desire to launch the first attack ad of the campaign lives up to his staff's boast that they will 'cook things up' as part of a 'slaughterhouse' style of campaign. ... Al Gore lacks a positive message while Dick Cheney voted with Ronald Reagan to reduce the deficit, cut taxes and rebuild our military. We don't need any more slaughterhouses."
The Bush campaign statement defended the Cheney votes by pointing to his focus on deficit reduction at a time of high budget deficits and cited votes for Head Start in other years. On health insurance, it said the bill in question raised "false hope to the unemployed" and was "an overambitious attempt to have coverage for everybody, but in reality it did not have sufficient funds to cover anybody."
The statement said Cheney's comments on OPEC coincided with those of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, and it noted Environmental Protection Agency awards to Halliburton Co., the oil services company headed by Cheney.
When asked about the Democratic ad yesterday in a television interview, Cheney said: "Their whole style of campaigning is very much built around negative assault on the opposition rather than offering any positive vision for the country."