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E-Mail from the trail: Inside the Kerry war room

By PERRY BACON JR.


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WASHINGTON (TIME) -- Right now, the space John Kerry's "rapid response" team occupies isn't so much a 'War Room" as it is a "War Warren:" three cramped offices in a converted law office three blocks from the White House.

Although each office was meant for one lawyer, they now house three or four staffers apiece. Despite the tight quarters, the place had a supersize success last past week when it both broke the news and began attacking President Bush's pick for a new manufacturing czar before the White House could even announce his selection.

On the door of one office a sign reads "Change Starts Here." Inside, there are now four desks stacked with papers and books, unopened boxes of video tapes in one corner, three TVs plugged into an extension cord hanging in the air, a white board with the names and phone numbers of reporters and a U.S. map with the states President Bush won by 5% or less shaded in.

Here communications director Stephanie Cutter, communications aide Katie McCormick Lelyveld, research director Mike Gehrke and spokesman Chad Clanton, who heads the campaign's rapid response group, keep their ears tuned to CNN seven days each week as they listen for any news they can use to attack Bush or defend Kerry.

Next door, the sign reads "Change Comes Here to Be Formatted." This is where several deputy press aides write and shoot the e-mails to reporters launching or responding to attacks after Cutter and Co. have determined their tactics.

The campaign's research staff occupies a third office where they look into Kerry and Bush' positions for things they need to defend against or can exploit.

This main rapid response team comes in at 6:30 AM and can stay past midnight on any given day, but at night they get a bit of relief from Chris Jackson and Peter Dauo, two young staffers who make the Kerry campaign a 24-hour operation.

Jackson, aided by a group of volunteers round the country who watch local news programs in key swing states like Ohio, puts together a 30-page memo to top aides of both what's in the morning papers and what people are seeing on television about the campaign.

Dauo reads the blogs, tracking what people are saying about Kerry on the Web.

Physically, the Kerry War Room remains a work in progress. After spending most of the campaign in a small Capitol Hill townhouse, Kerry's team moved its headquarters to the law office two weeks ago.

Staffers are so new to the building that last week their names and phone extensions were still written on small cards on the door so people would know where to work.

While the campaign currently only occupies the 7th floor of the building, much of the communications and research staff will move to the 6th floor in a few months.

The idea of all this is that Kerry's team can not only respond as soon as they come in the morning to any problems, but that the candidate can quickly plug in new lines of attack or defense write into his speech that day.

"Our motto is speed kills," says David Wade, a campaign spokesman. "Everybody here is prepared to turn on dime to respond."



Copyright © 2004 Time Inc.

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