Little respect for conventions in never-ending U.S. campaign

COMMERCE, Michigan Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:56am EDT

Workers prepare balloons to be dropped from the ceiling at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida August 24, 2012. The convention starts Monday August 27, 2012. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Workers prepare balloons to be dropped from the ceiling at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida August 24, 2012. The convention starts Monday August 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

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COMMERCE, Michigan (Reuters) - There are few timeouts in U.S. presidential campaigns any more.

A tradition of candidates keeping a low profile while opponents bask in the limelight at their party conventions has frayed in recent elections.

This year, that custom will be all but ignored as President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney compete to be heard amid the cacophony of campaign noise on Twitter, YouTube and the 24-hour news cycle.

In a phenomenon known as "convention counter-programming," the two White House hopefuls will campaign at full speed during each other's conventions to try to grab some of the attention from their rival.

"The old tradition of parties giving each other a week to have uncontested conventions is a relic of the three TV network and two local papers media era," said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist.

Obama's campaign is laying out an aggressive agenda for next week when Romney will be officially nominated in a blaze of media attention at the convention in Tampa, Florida, to the acclaim of thousands of delegates.

In an trip aimed at tweaking the four-day Republican gathering, Vice President Joe Biden will hold campaign events in Florida next week. Biden had even planned to turn up in Tampa itself on Monday and meet Democratic supporters only 9 miles from the convention venue but he later canceled, citing a burden on local emergency service dealing with Tropical Storm Isaac.

"The Internet, 24-hour news and Twitter almost mandates the opposing party stages counter events, fact-checks speeches and otherwise keeps the pressure on without a break. Four days of unmolested spin is a lifetime in this environment," said Simmons.

Obama will focus much of his time next week on young voters, embarking on a two-day college tour in the critical swing states of Iowa, Colorado and Virginia.

"While Hollywood producers and advertising executives try to reinvent Mitt Romney in Tampa, President Obama and Vice President Biden will be on the road next week to lay out the clear choice between building an economy from the middle class out or the top down," said Ben LaBolt, Obama's campaign spokesman.

First lady Michelle Obama is appearing on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on Wednesday, the same night as vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan presents himself to the American public in his acceptance speech at the Republican event.

'MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY DAY'

As aggressive as the Democrats will be next week, Romney and his team also have no intention of just letting Obama enjoy rallies and partisan speeches uncontested when the Democrats meet for their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, from September 4 to 6.

Senior advisers to the Romney campaign say it never entered their minds that they might take time off during the Democratic convention.

Romney and Ryan's schedules are still being firmed up for that week.

Romney adviser Kevin Madden said while the national media is focused on Obama and his convention, the Republican candidate will seize on the opportunity to travel to battleground states and interact with voters and local media.

"From the campaign's perspective, the sprint from Labor Day to Election Day really requires us to make the most of every day, to concentrate on voter contact and to carry our message to as many local media markets as possible in these battleground states," Madden said. "It's a competition for voters and in a competition like this, it's important that we don't let any opportunities pass us by."

How intense the Republican counter-offensive will be might depend in part on how much mischief Democrats cause next week.

Romney got in an early shot against Obama on Saturday, 10 days before the Democrats' convention starts.

"I know the president's going to go to that convention, he's going to have all sorts of marvelous things to say. I mean I can almost read his speech now. It will be filled with promises that tell people how wonderful things are. Of course, they'll have to contrast that with what they know they're experiencing," he said at a rally in Ohio.

In a rare case of a presidential campaigns taking time off, Obama and Romney suspended political ads in Colorado after a gunman shot and killed 12 people at a suburban Denver movie theater last month.

In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain announced he was suspending his presidential campaign to allow lawmakers to deal with the financial crisis but he returned to campaigning after several days when Obama refused to suspend his White House bid.

(This story is corrected with spelling of Jamal Simmons' name in fifth paragraph)

(Editing By Alistair Bell and Mohammad Zargham)

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