RNC pushing to win tech 'space race'

The Republican National Committee is pushing to win the data “space race” heading into the 2014 elections, making big and early investments to catch up with Democrats, who have beat the GOP both on technology and the ground game in recent years. 

“We’re in a space race with the DNC to build a better data infrastructure,” one RNC official said during a Wednesday morning background briefing at their Capitol Hill offices. “They put up Sputnik. We believe we can put a man on the moon.”

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Republicans admit they were crushed on the ground in 2012 and are looking to dramatically change their approach heading into this year’s midterm elections. That means a major “culture shift,” in the words of one RNC official, toward a willingness to spend early on field investment and a beefed up tech team.

More than half of RNC staffers are now located outside of Washington, D.C. Many are based in the states where critical Senate, House and gubernatorial races will be decided. The RNC has also launched a Silicon Valley office to help supplement its widely expanded data operation.

“We have become a data-centered committee,” an RNC official said.

The official said the top three priorities of the committee now are data and digital efforts, improving the party’s ground game operations, and “providing campaigns the resources they need to win.”

The RNC has been crushing its Democratic counterparts in fundraising since the last elections, a trend its staff believes will continue.

“We will beat the Democrats by a lot. We will go into this year, 2014, with a huge cash advantage,” said an official, who noted RNC Chairman Reince Priebus had raised $3.2 million from large donors alone during December and described the month’s fundraising haul as “tremendous.” 

The RNC had an $18 million edge over the debt-laden Democratic National Committee as of the end of November.

The big data push comes 10 months after the RNC released an extensive report on how the party and committee needed to change, officially titled the “Growth and Opportunity Project” and often referred to unofficially as its “autopsy” following losses in 2012. Party officials say they’ve made great strides internally on many of the report’s goals, especially in regards to critical data concerns.

Other top goals in the report included expanding the GOP’s appeal to minority voters, women and younger voters by taking a softer tone on issues like gay marriage and immigration. 

Progress on that front has been uneven at best, RNC officials admit, but they still argue they’re doing all they can as a committee to improve on those efforts.

“At the end of the day, candidates still matter. People aren’t voting for the RNC on the ballot; they’re voting on the candidate,” said one official. “Candidates who embrace the changes that need to happen will likely win.”

The RNC is seeking to improve its ethnic-voter outreach by embedding field staff in heavily minority areas and looking to improve its margins from historically low levels in 2012. In California, for instance, they have a field staffer in five competitive House districts that could be top races, all of which have substantial minority communities. Those districts are represented by Reps. Gary Miller (R), David Valadao (R), Ami Bera (D), Raul Ruiz (D and Scott Peters (D). 

During the fall, the RNC held bilingual phone banks to help reelect New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), the first time the party had done so.

National Republicans admit there’s a lot of work to be done, but they are aiming to build relationships locally, so they can be heard.

“As it stands right now, Democrats can tee off on us on any number of issues in the community because we’re not there,” said one official. “When you’re in a community, you’re able to describe our policies. … If you don’t have a relationship with someone, they’re only going to hear one side of the story.”

They’re also looking to take as many shots against Democrats ahead of 2016 — both President Obama and Hillary Clinton are top targets — so they can’t be as effective in helping other Democratic candidates in the midterms and beyond. 

“Tearing down those brands is important to us,” an official said.

—Rebecca Shabad contributed

This story was updated at 8:34 p.m.