Thursday, December 2, 2010

A behind-the-scenes look at the NRCC's 2010 strategy

Interesting article on Politico by Brad Todd and Mike Shields, who headed up the independent expenditure efforts for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), about their successful strategies for the 2010 elections:

There's some intriguing stuff about the NRCC's strategy from the beginning, to aggressively target Democrats in conservative-leaning districts:
Our independent expenditure unit was spun out of the NRCC and given four guiding principles: 1) maximize dollars by acting early to broaden the playing field; 2) never let a local storyline stray from the national narrative; 3) force “red” districts to perform “red,” even if the incumbent is popular, and 4) upgrade our quantitative research and media production values to customize each race. 

We stuck to these principles throughout the fall, and -- to our great surprise -- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee never tried to force us off our game. All our hard funding decisions were between competing opportunities in long-shot races – never between one of our very public early targets and new opportunities. 

Perhaps most significant, these strategic principles were not formed in the swell of a wave -- they guided the NRCC since January, 2009. Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) created a challenger-focused, aggressive NRCC and viewed House control as the only acceptable outcome -- even as many in Washington saw this as a two-cycle project.
The mindset from the early days, installed and enforced by the NRCC’s Executive Director Guy Harrison, was “play offense” and “cause chaos” -- and the IE unit was set up as an extension of this philosophy.
To win a majority in one election, the NRCC had to make the playing field larger than just the Democratic “war babies,” who had won in 2006 and 2008 as part of the vote against President George W. Bush. We needed a playing field that gave us 80 opportunities to win 39 seats...
...The best use of scarce resources, we decided, was to start play early -- pushing the prospect of majority control to mobilize outside groups and donors to individual campaigns. The operational term became “make-a-race” and our rationale was simple: If we build it, they will come. 

We did build it. And they came -- both donors to candidates and third-party assistance from outside groups that had previously focused on Senate races. Federal Election Commission data shows the DCCC’s IE Unit out-spent the NRCC’s unit $62 million to $44 million in 2010, but the same reports show the other major third-party players on the conservative side out-spent their liberal counterparts.
Also interesting is the discussion of the decision to make the health care bill a central theme of the election:
The health care vote, while consistently not the toughest hit in quantitative surveys, provoked a more visceral reaction among voters than any other Democratic misstep. While independents objected to Democrats’ spending and debt, we found it was the health care vote that caused them to give up on the party as a congressional majority.
Focus group respondents in Rep. Scott Murphy’s upstate New York district were so agitated by his flip-flop to support health care reform that they began cursing our moderator.
When asking voters an open-ended question about their greatest hesitation to supporting their local Democratic candidate, the phrase “health care” came up more often than any other -- besides “Democrat.” In our most difficult races, we closed the campaign on health care.

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