GOP Intensifying Opposition Research Activities

The Washington Post has an excellent piece by Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza detailing the Republican Party's plans to rely on extensive opposition research and intensive mudslinging and "spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what [Democratic] officials described as negative ads" in the upcoming elections.

The hope is that a vigorous effort to "define" opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall...

"Opposition research is power," said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.), the NRCC chairman. "Opposition research is the key to defining untested opponents."...

Because challengers tend to be little-known compared with incumbents, they are more vulnerable to having their public image framed by the opposition through attacks and unflattering personal revelations.

And with polls showing the Republicans' House and Senate majorities in jeopardy, party strategists said they have concluded that their best chance to prevent big Democratic gains is a television and direct-mail blitz over the next eight weeks aimed at raising enough questions about Democratic candidates that voters decide they are unacceptable choices.

"When you run in an adverse political environment, you try to localize and personalize the race as much as you can," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.

In a memo released last week, Cole, who is running to succeed Reynolds at the NRCC, expanded on that strategy. The memo recommended that vulnerable incumbents spend $20,000 on a research "package" to find damaging material about challengers and urged that they "define your opponent immediately and unrelentingly."...

Against some less experienced and little-known opponents, said Matt Keelen, a Republican lobbyist heavily involved in House campaigns, "It will take one or two punches to fold them up like a cheap suit."

Republicans plan to attack Democratic candidates over their voting records, business dealings, and legal tussles, the GOP officials said...

As in past elections, the bulk of negative advertising this year probably will be delivered by party committees -- a strategy that allows the candidates to distance themselves from the trash-talking messages that turn off some voters...

In recent elections, Democratic officials have complained that Republicans are much better at opposition research. But Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who chair the Democrats' House and Senate campaign committees, have invested more heavily in research. Notably, the researchers dig not only into Republicans, but also their own candidates. This allows Democrats to anticipate what is coming and be ready to respond quickly...

Direct-mail appeals often carry the most negative and potentially damaging messages. Dan Hazelwood, a leading GOP direct mail consultant, said that if a hypothetical Democratic candidate favors the establishment of a garbage dump in a section of the district, for instance, it makes more sense to "narrow-cast" this message by mail to the people most affected rather than buying an expensive, districtwide television ad...

In setting up a separate arm to spend money on Senate races, the RNC is altering its past practice. In the past, the RNC simply transferred a large sum of money to the House and Senate campaign committees and let the chairmen decide how to spend it. This year, Nelson -- a former top official in the Bush reelection effort and political strategist for House Republicans -- will work with consultants Tony Feather and Curt Anderson to oversee the TV and direct-mail campaign, which by law must remain independent of coordination directly with candidates.

BDR Note:
The Republican shift towards centralizing and rationalizing the process of opposition research and mudslinging is worth considering as it will improve, for a time, the Republican's already quite effective approach.

I'm not sure what statements from Democratic officials complaining about Republican skills at opposition research are being referenced here but it's quite obvious that opposition research should be an extensive and ongoing operation.  What one does with the information (mudslinging, preemptive strikes, defensive manuevers, etc.) is a separate issue.

The Democrats need to step up in a much more serious manner if they hope to get into the White House.  Relying on a widespread desire for change is a short lived tactic at best.


Opposition Research: War By Other Means

Opposition Research Aids Political Wars:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican Rep. Anne Northup of Kentucky was caught in an uncomfortably close race a few campaigns back, until she plucked the fruits of months-old research that her campaign had compiled into her opponent's record.

The resulting commercial showed Eleanor Jordan in an unflattering moment, standing on the floor of the Kentucky Legislature urging fellow lawmakers to wrap up their work. "I have a fundraiser at 6 o'clock and I want to get out of here,'' Jordan said with an impatient glance at her wristwatch.

Jordan "lost her momentum after that,'' Northup recalled recently - neither the first nor the last candidate to benefit from a political subspecialty known as opposition research...

To some, opposition research is a tedious but important part of politics. To others, it's a black art. Equally available to both parties, even senior Democrats acknowledge that Republicans have excelled in recent years at conducting and using the research...

"We send someone into the district who would go to the library, check (online) or old clips of newspapers. They'd go to the county courthouse and look through tax records, property records, all available public documents, including criminal records,'' said Carl Forti of the House Republican campaign committee.

In other cases, committees or candidates hire outside companies to do the job, saving money on travel costs.

Final reports can be voluminous. Strategy considerations dictate when and how the material is used.

"You're thinking about how you might want to release the information so it's going to have a maximum amount of impact,'' Jones said. The options include mass mailings and television commercials, but in some cases, it's preferable to "get the information into a newspaper. Then you have third party credibility.''

A Web site or blog are other options, on the theory that once information is on the Internet, it may gain wider circulation in the mainstream media.

Key Quote:
Given the scrutiny they can expect, it's wise for candidates to conduct opposition research on themselves.

Update:
Though I'm emphasizing the Republicans mentioned in the article, one can sense the jealousy of the Democratic Party.  Of course, my hope is to help up their skillset for future electoral battles, even if I don't trust Democrats farther than I can kick them.