A Room With A View

Inside St. Paul's DNC "war room"

ST. PAUL - Inside the Labor Center at 411 Main Street, just beyond the imposing black gates defining the perimeter of the Xcel Center, a gaggle of young politicos sit in a fluorescent lit room, furiously typing on laptops. In the corner sits a buffet table studded with bowls of snack-sized candy bars and a large urn of coffee. Save for the clatter of keyboards, the room is silent.

“This is where the magic happens,” Jamal Simmons tells me. Simmons, a twenty-something guy with that air of enthusiastic affability so common among young political operatives, is giving me a tour of the pair of rooms known—somewhat ironically, it turns out—as the DNC’s War Room.

The “magic,” as it were, boils down mostly to what the War Room denizens’ fellow Dems are doing in Washington and Chicago: fact-checking claims made at the RNC, sending out press releases with the results of those checks, and posting them on the DNC’s oppo Web site, JustMoreOfTheSame.com. Fred Thompson’s Tuesday night claim that Obama is “the most liberal senator”? Checked. Huckabee’s, Romney’s, and Whitman’s claim that Obama will raise taxes? Checked.

In the suite’s main press room, or “the media center,” as Jamal calls it—the space’s perimeter is studded with signs (“McCain: More of the Same” and “Obama ‘08”), its interior lined with chairs—a few technicians gather, chatting with each other. But there are no official events planned for the day.

“We were going to do press conferences from here every morning,” Jamal tells me, gesturing to the stage set up with a makeshift podium. “But we scrapped that. We wanted to be respectful of the people affected by Gustav.”

Now that the hurricane has passed, though, a new kind of hurricane, apparently, can begin. “For the first couple days, we were on low gear,” Simmons says. “But now we’re going full steam ahead.”

As if to prove the point, he presents me with a packet: “DNC at the RNC: A Survival Kit for Reporters.” This contains:

- a jump drive, pre-loaded with “More of the Same” literature, on a lanyard with a laminated “DNC at the RNC” (“Get the 4-1-1 at 411 Main”) badge
- a large, blue button playing on the “McCain for President” motif: “Ask me how many houses I own”
- a packet of literature: “the McCain files”
- a travel-sized tube of Aleve (“because your head might hurt after listening to the Republicans’ speeches,” Jamal informs me)
- a roll of TUMS (“because you might have indigestion after listening…”)
- a 100 Grand bar (“$100,000 is nothing to the McCains”)
- a Payday bar (“because every day is a big payday for the McCains”)

Onto the packet’s exterior is stapled a memo to reporters, from the DNC Communications office, detailing its St. Paul Survival Guide. “While you’re there,” the memo declares, “we’ll make sure you have everything you need to cut through the convention spin.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.