It was a sore point for Republicans, who came out of that election
vowing to nullify the Democrats' advantage in gleaning information
from voter databases and social media to find potential supporters.
More than a year later that still has not happened. According to
interviews with a dozen strategists from both parties, Democrats
appear set to maintain their technological edge, potentially
boosting their prospects in the 2014 midterm elections just as other
factors — such as President Obama's sliding popularity — are likely
to favor Republicans.
It is not that the Republicans are not trying.
The Republican National Committee is spending "tens of millions of
dollars," spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski says, to "change the culture
of our data and digital program" with new data analysis teams in
Washington and Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, independent conservative
groups funded by big-money donors such as the billionaire brothers
Charles and David Koch continue to have their own digital teams,
typically focused more on issues — such as opposing Obama's
healthcare overhaul — than on individual candidates.
But in a reflection of some of the divisions between the Republican
Party's most conservative members and its more moderate
establishment, campaigns and other groups often do not share
information about voters and tactics.
And even as party leaders are aggressively pursuing a new digital
game plan, Republican strategists acknowledge that some conservative
candidates and their supporters remain wary of changing tactics they
have used for years, such as reaching voters through television ads
and door-to-door campaigning without much help from analyses of
Some Republicans' skepticism was fueled in 2012 by the embarrassing
failure of the Romney campaign's ORCA project, a data system that
was designed to help get conservative voters to the polls and
improve communication between campaign offices. ORCA crashed on
Election Day, potentially harming Republican turnout.
"There's a fundamental cultural problem" in how Republicans have
dealt with technology in recent elections, said Vincent Harris, a
Republican digital strategist who this year is helping candidates
such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
"Democrats are still a couple (election) cycles ahead of us," Harris
OBAMA'S DIGITAL "GURUS"
The Democrats' digital advantage is fueled largely by tools
developed by Obama's campaigns in 2008 and 2012 to identify likely
Democratic voters, persuade them to vote and encourage their friends
to do the same.
Using databases built from such information, digital teams can
design and target ad campaigns and online outreach efforts through
social media and emails to specific groups.
The Democrats' efforts are further boosted by a network of dozens of
former Obama technology aides who have formed consulting companies
that, while independent of one another and the party, share
information and strategies with each other and with clients,
including many campaigns.
During the past year, this Democratic network helped the successful
campaigns of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, New York City Mayor
Bill de Blasio, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Boston Mayor
Now, several of Obama's former digital and data staffers are turning
their sights on 2014 races, some of which pose large hurdles for
They include Teddy Goff, a former digital director for Obama's 2012
campaign. Goff's firm, Precision Strategies, has been hired by the
campaign of Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat and former
Florida governor who is seeking to reclaim that job this fall in a
battle against his successor, conservative Republican Rick Scott.
In Wisconsin, BlueLabs, which includes Obama 2012 data engineers
Chris Wegrzyn and Daniel Porter, has gone to work for Mary Burke.
She is the Democrat challenging conservative Republican Governor
Scott Walker, who is seen by many Republicans as a potential
Other firms led by Obama digital campaign veterans include 270
Strategies, which is led by the 2012 campaign's battleground states
director Mitch Stewart and national field director Jeremy Bird.
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It has signed on to help Democrat Wendy Davis' long-shot bid for
Texas governor against Greg Abbott, the Republican attorney general
in the mostly Republican state.
The 270 Strategies firm also is working for Ready for Hillary, the
political action committee supporting a possible presidential run by
former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The Democratic digital and data teams are coy about discussing their
tactics and strategies, but Republican digital specialists say they
have seen enough of them to recognize a gulf between each side's
Ned Ryun, founder of Republican campaign technology company Voter
Gravity, pointed to the 2013 race for Virginia governor as an
example of Republicans' struggles with voter data.
McAuliffe defeated conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the
politically divided state, a big win for Democrats at a time when
Obama's administration was under fire for problems with the rollout
"The Cuccinelli campaign was going door-to-door using paper and pen"
while collecting voter data, Ryun said. "When I asked what happened
to the data, their guy just shrugged his shoulders."
When campaigns do not retain or share data, Ryun said, it hurts
candidates' ability to persuade voters, and information that a
campaign obtains cannot be used by future candidates.
A "WAKE-UP CALL"
So will the digital advantage of the Democratic Party and its
friends make a big difference in the 2014 elections?
Probably only in tight races, analysts said. These could include
those featuring vulnerable Senate Democrats such as Mark Begich of
Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay
Hagan of North Carolina. The four Democratic senators are crucial to
Democrats' efforts to keep control of the Senate, where Republicans
need to gain six seats to take over the chamber.
The embattled Democratic incumbents will benefit from their party's
continued investment in data operations, analysts in both parties
said. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has launched an
effort to increase turnout in the senators' states, and plans to use
voter data to mobilize people who otherwise might not vote in a
Republicans are hoping their efforts to oust the senators will
receive a big push from dissatisfaction with Obamacare and the first
fruits of the RNC's revamped digital program that the party hopes
will be in high gear by the 2016 presidential election.
Money is not an issue, and Republicans are trying to close the
expertise gap by both hiring more experts and increasing training.
"There was a wake-up call after 2012" throughout the Republican
Party, said Tim Miller, executive director of America Rising, an
opposition research group for Republicans.
Even so, some Republican digital strategists say the party's
investment in a digital team at the RNC headquarters in Washington
has not yet translated into much help for campaigns.
"I have a dozen clients with primary elections in two months, and
early voting starts in two weeks. If I were waiting for people
sitting inside the (Capital) Beltway for marching orders, I wouldn't
have done anything yet," Harris said. "We have had to do this
ourselves without a lot of help from the establishment."
(Editing by David Lindsey, Martin Howell and Lisa Shumaker)
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