The Republican’s Secret Weapon against Obama

April 10th, 2012

As seen in the Washington Times:

Although we live in a post-Citizens United world of Super PACs, the national party committees remain relevant, in fact, vital, to winning national campaigns.

As any former or current party chair will tell you, there are certain things that only a national party can do. It’s important that it do them well.

As such, a functioning Republican National Committee (RNC) was one of the key requirements to Republicans unseating an incumbent president for only the second time in the last 100 years (first was Carter in 1980).

Reince Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, did not have a national profile when he won election to national party chairman on the seventh ballot on January 14, 2011. More importantly, he was inheriting an epic disaster, gallingly handed to him by Michael Steele, whose reign as party chairman was an historic and unmitigated disaster.

Upon taking over, on day one Priebus inherited a $21 million debt, a bloated staff with disturbingly low morale, and few prospects for immediate fundraising. How bad were things? Political director Gentry Collins, a respected senior GOP operative who had run the Republican Party of Iowa and had been a senior Romney and McCain campaign aide in 2008, released an unusual and scathing four-page letter in November 2010 detailing how bad a job Steele did.

Had Priebus done a mediocre job, he would deserve sincere appreciation for taking on this exhausting role in a presidential cycle after the mess that he was given.

But Priebus has quietly led a renaissance at the RNC, with a methodical, disciplined, hard-working, blue collar approach that has paid major dividends little more than a year later, at a critical time for the Republican Party nationally.

First, Priebus brought in respected operatives Ed Gillespie and Nick Ayers to oversee the transition. They quickly cut the staff and overhead drastically and undertook a thoughtful strategic analysis to forge a path forward. Together, they convinced top staffers to come to the RNC, with Jeff Larson moving from Minnesota to be Chief of Staff, vteran operative Rick Wiley joining as Political Director, Sean Spicer leading the communications team, and eventually Joe Pounder leading the round-the-clock research shop. Ambassador Ron Weiser, whose determination is legendary, was convinced to join as National Finance Chairman. The team was a significant upgrade, and sent a signal to the political and finance community that there was a new sheriff in town.

In the past 15 months, the RNC has raised over $110 million, a staggering figure for being the party without the White House, which the New York Times reported they had banked “nearly half of it in cash and trust fund reserves to be used in the upcoming general election.” About $22 million was placed into a Presidential Trust, which was chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), available to be immediately transferred to the campaign of the Republican nominee, a quick boost after this year’s long, costly and divisive primary.

According to the New York Times, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) raised $27 million more dollars over the same period than the RNC, not unusual for the party with the White House, but their burn rate left them with less cash on hand ($21 million compared to $26.7 million at the end of March). The RNC has demonstrated greater discipline than its counterpart and the Republican nominee will benefit from it.

A former RNC Deputy Chairman, Frank Donatelli, recently said, “There was a donor strike of sorts at the end of 2010,” saying that Priebus has “regained the confidence of those major donors.” Strong fundraising has allowed the RNC to erase nearly half of its debt after 15 months.

True in a campaign of any size, strong finances allow for a strong ground organization.

The RNC already had campaign offices in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, more several more states in the coming weeks. In Wisconsin alone, Republican volunteers have already made over one million voter contacts – which equals the total number of voter contacts made nationally by the Obama campaign.

Efficient and effective voter contact requires first-rate data, and the RNC has made the requisite investments in updating and upgrading “Voter Vault,” which had deteriorated from the Bush reelection of 2004 to the McCain campaign in 2008.

One of the primary roles of the RNC when challenging a president of the opposing party is to always be on offense. Under Spicer, the RNC communications team has done this, bracketing President Obama’s travel, organizing a team of surrogates, and constantly unveiling new web and television ads, as they did Monday with a new ad, “Obama 2012 from Hope and Hypocrisy.” They set out to achieve “leaner but speedier” response efforts, recently detailed by CNN.

The RNC appointed Bettina Inclan with the role of managing their Hispanic voter outreach program nationally and in target states, which will eventually include field efforts, and already includes social media and a new website.

All this has been done in 15 months.

In a statement, Priebus recently said, “We are at least 90 days ahead of where the RNC has ever been in history.”

Given the mess he inherited, that is quite an accomplishment.

If Republicans win the White House in 2012, the RNC will be a major reason why.

Matt Mackowiak is an Austin, TX and Washington-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and a governor, and has advised federal and state political campaigns across the country.