Republicans have spent the past 15 months figuring out how to close the digital campaign gap with their Democratic counterparts, and the RNC last week rolled out its most concrete contribution: A new, in-house tech and data startup it calls Para Bellum Labs. The RNC effort moves the GOP closer to digital parity with Democrats, but how quickly they can close that gap remains an open question.
— Para Bellum — which seeks to bring the RNC’s historically-respected voter file into the 21st century in an effort to bolster voter contacts from field work to traditional targeting — also represents a realization that traditional television advertising isn’t how the party and its candidates are going to reach a new generation of voters by combining a creative team with data engineers focused on innovative approaches. “I regularly say in my presentations is I believe the most important screen we’re going to be communicating on is the small one in their hands and not the large one in their living room,” RNC chief digital officer Chuck DeFeo told The Hotline last week.
— The RNC effort looks forward to 2016, when the party will attempt to take back the White House after eight years of Democratic reign. And whereas President Obama‘s campaign built a sophisticated digital operation that overwhelmed the GOP, the RNC hopes its eventual candidate will inherit a team already in place. That will be particularly important if Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, who, as the overwhelming frontrunner, has years to build her campaign apparatus. “I think this is a very strategic moment,” DeFeo said. “When I look at the very talented team on the Obama campaign side, a lot of them moved onto the private side. … They’re not devoting their time, their focus on continuing to build out what’s needed [for 2016].”
— DeFeo’s statement isn’t entirely true. Team Obama has gone private sector, but they’re still involved in Democratic campaigns — BlueLabs and Precision Strategies are two examples. BlueLabs gets a lot of credit for Terry McAuliffe‘s VA GOV win last year, and they’ll be in high demand in this year’s midterms.
Democrats are looking at their digital edge as a silver bullet in the race for control of the Senate. But because the technology is changing so quickly, the Democratic advantage in 2008 and 2012 (and likely 2014) won’t necessarily exist in 2016 if the GOP’s belated effort to close the gap is successful.
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