GOP `truth squad' stalks Democrats

ON even this Democratic nirvana of sunshine, unity, and harmony, a little rain must fall. A number of Republicans (yes, Republicans), including some members of Congress and at least one GOP consultant, have been seen on the floor of the convention hall, presumably getting a firsthand look at the competition.

The Republicans have also set up a media center in the Jackson headquarters hotel, where they have been offering daily press conferences. Sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP self-styled ``truth squad'' has been parading a host of conservative politicians before whoever would show up at their store-front center in the Atlanta Marriott.

Asked how they got space at the fully booked convention, one Republican staff aide said, ``I think Mr. Marriott is a Republican.''

The short-term political goal is to portray the Democrat ticket as a ``troika,'' a sort of three-headed Democratic monster with an identity crisis.

``With Lloyd Bentsen whispering in [Michael Dukakis's] right ear, Jesse Jackson whispering in his left ear, what is the real program of the Democrat Party?'' asks Illinois Gov. James Thompson, who flew in Wednesday to help the GOP. ``Whose advise would he really follow?''

The Republicans have also taken exception to the political rhetoric coming from the convention podium. Keynote speaker Ann Richards's comment, ``Poor George, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth,'' among others, has angered Republicans. ``It has crossed the line into the swamp of personal attack, hypocrisy, and outright lies,'' says a GOP press release.

The Republicans are also zeroing in on the Democratic platform, which Governor Thompson says is full of ``at least 30 proposals for spending billions of big bucks without one word about where [the money] will come from.''

One GOP congressman, Manuel Lujan Jr. of New Mexico, explained in an interview how he got onto the convention floor to conduct his reconnaissance.

``We kidded back and forth,'' he says about his Democratic colleagues. They knew he was a part of the ``truth squad,'' but they didn't seem to care.

A Democratic spokesman dismisses the GOP ``truth squad.'' ``I have yet to hear anybody even mention their existence,'' says George Mair, chief press officer for House Speaker Jim Wright. Asked if the Democrats should do the same thing at the Republican convention next month, he says, ``I certainly hope we wouldn't demean ourselves and the process by doing that. It's really kind of childish.''

Mr. Thompson says the Republicans are not trying to crash the Democrats' party, they are simply trying to provide the press with easy access to the competition in the regular course of the political process.

Republican Gov. John Sununu of New Hampshire showed up to throw a few barbs at the Democratic platform. He called it a ``comic book without pictures,'' and said the Republicans were thinking about ``adding pictures to the GOP platform so the Mondale Democrats could understand it.''

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont responded by calling Mr. Sununu ``strictly a negative campaigner'' whose tactics will backfire. ``Mike Dukakis should pay Sununu's way down to Atlanta,'' the senator said.

Judging from the political rhetoric at this convention, Thompson says, the ``campaign threatens to be a negative one,'' but he is hoping cooler heads will prevail when the convention season has passed.

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