RNC Technologists Slowly Gaining Ground on Tech Gap

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The Russian rocket Sputnik III is presented in Brussels during an international show in this 1958 file photo.

The technologists working to improve the database tools and field organizing for the Republican National Committee briefed reporters in Boston today on their progress in trying to get the party into the modern era of campaigns.

President Barack Obama’s two campaigns have taught the Republicans the hard way of the need for it.

One of their goals: look for some Republican-leaning quantitative analysis gurus from Wall Street who might be able to help with the effort, even if it means a pay cut. The briefers acknowledged that technologists tend to lean Democrat.

“More of them are Democrats than Republicans, but not all of them,” said Andy Barkett, the RNC’s newly hired chief technology officer. “I just need 30 really good ones.”

Barkett said he expects Republicans will catch up to Democrats “pretty quickly” when it comes to gathering “big data” on voters and more effectively targeting online advertising.

“I’m worried that we are a little further behind in the data science,” he said.

By the end of the year, Barkett said he expects his team will have built a “pretty comprehensive suite of voter relationship management tools.”

Mike Shields, the RNC’s chief of staff, said the party “stopped innovating” after the 2004 re-election of former President George W. Bush.

Shields compared the effort to a space race. Under his analogy, he said the Democrats built Sputnik in 2012 and Republicans will go to the moon and build a space shuttle program between now and 2016.

“We have to build a better NASA than them between now and 2016,” he said.

“I’m confident that we can leapfrog the Democrat’s data capabilities,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told his committee members later in the morning. “It’s a new day in our party.”

Chris McNulty, the party’s political director, said the party now has more than 150 staff members in the field working in targeted states and that number will grow to 200 by the end of September. By the end of the year, he said the party will have field workers in every state.

“It’s fast growth, but it’s also very unique and new to the party and fits with our model,” he said. “We want to go find voters.”

McNulty said the party is rethinking its entire grassroots model.

“It’s much more of a precinct-based model,” he said. “It allows for us to collect more data.”


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