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Bush, Kerry e-mails seek post-debate spin

Both campaigns exhort supporters to flood the media with messages declaring a winner in the debates.

CLEVELAND--Determined to win the post-debate spin war on Tuesday night, the Bush campaign called on its supporters to flood the news media with quick declarations that Vice President Dick Cheney had come out ahead.

Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager, delivered the request in an e-mail message to supporters early Tuesday morning.

"Immediately after the debate, visit online polls, chat rooms and discussion boards and make your voice heard," he said in the note, sent to the 6 million supporters on the campaign's e-mail list. "People's perceptions are shaped as much by their conversations around the water cooler as by the debates themselves."

The note--which is a mirror image of one sent out by the Democrats just before the first presidential debate last week--also exhorted supporters to follow up by writing letters to their local newspapers and by calling in to radio talk shows.

The instructions underscore the premium that both sides place on the post-debate scorekeeping by the news media, which the campaigns consider crucial to shaping perceptions and creating momentum in the final weeks of the race.

Such e-mail messages are just part of their arsenals for the post-debate spin wars: Top aides and party surrogates are sent to cable news programs; local party leaders are sent to news studios to do the same in swing states; and teams of researchers send dozens of messages to reporters covering the debates accusing the other candidate of flip-flops, misstatements or lies.


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Vice presidential debates are traditionally considered less influential than presidential ones. But both sides say this debate will carry more sway with voters, given the perception that the vice presidency has heightened importance in the post-Sept. 11 world. That was underscored by the lengths the White House went to shortly after the terrorist attacks to keep Bush and Cheney separate at all times, in case the vice president had to run the country.

The team for Sen. John Kerry is hoping his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, can use the debate to build on the momentum that came from the Democratic presidential contender's well-reviewed performance at the first debate last Thursday.

Bush's team, on the other hand, still smarting from the impression that the president lost the debate and seemed peevish and annoyed, is hoping Cheney will reverse the tide, and set up the president to do better at the next debate, which will be in a town hall setting on Friday night in St. Louis.

Though Kerry's aides said the overwhelming perception that Kerry was the victor was based on reality, not campaign talking points, they said they went to great efforts to ensure that such a view prevailed in news coverage for several days after the debate.

That strategy included an entreaty by Kerry's campaign manager to visitors to his Web log, saying, "Right now we need you" to "contact the media and speak your mind." The gist of that message ricocheted through several liberal Web sites and some reporters were deluged with e-mail messages about why Kerry had won.

Bush's aides acknowledged that Mehlman's note on Tuesday was almost identical to one written by the Democratic Party chairman, Terry McAuliffe, last Thursday.

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