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Inside the NRSC's Comeback Strategy

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
From left: Dayspring, Collins and McLaughlin said the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s new communication operation will “redefine” what a conventional press shop does.

Just after President Barack Obama was elected, Collins expanded Cantor’s press shop by hiring what he described as three aggressive “alpha dogs” who brought campaign-style rapid response and proactive, multitiered messaging under the Capitol Dome.

With two press aides already on staff, Collins added John Murray, who now runs the Young Guns Action Fund super PAC; Joe Pounder, now the RNC research director; and Dayspring, who built a combative reputation with the press.

“Even the tone of how attacks are waged” were changed then, Dayspring recalled.

With their help, Cantor accomplished his first major goal as whip — ensuring that every House Republican voted against the popular young president’s stimulus.

Split Responsibilities

Dayspring conceded his committee’s new split-control communications effort would invite skeptics.

A New Jersey native who turns 36 this month, Dayspring will focus on Washington, D.C., and New York media — where the NRSC’s largest fundraising bases reside. Beyond his core duties, Dayspring also wants the NRSC to cultivate talent that can help run GOP campaigns in the years ahead.

“The goal is to really invest some time and some capital into getting some press people trained up,” Dayspring said.

McLaughlin, 38, will take the lead on most of the media outside the Beltway, including building relationships with local press and training the operatives on the ground. Collins said he will essentially have two people capable of running press shops on their own, but with McLaughlin spending three to four days a week on the road.

Traditionally, the NRSC sends top staff to competitive races in the final months — in North Dakota last cycle, for example. But this cycle, the committee hopes having an extra man in the field this early will construct a stronger bond with nascent campaigns.

McLaughlin, a Minnesotan who was in Minneapolis last week meeting with the state GOP, said he will offer the same assistance and advice to every campaign before the primary.

His role emerged from his consulting work last cycle, including for the NRSC. He launched a boutique communications firm well into 2012 that proved successful in part because so many campaigns lacked competent operatives, he said.

“We can have the best data in the world, we can have the best digital,” McLaughlin said by phone. “But if we don’t have good people who can interpret and implement it, there’s no point.”

To contrast, the NRSC’s counterpart, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, prides itself on working closely to recruit and advise campaigns from the get-go. It helped Senate Democrats pick up seats last cycle in states the president lost by double digits.

Committee at a Crossroads

Two cycles removed from the Citizens United decision, Collins, the former president of the American Action Network super PAC, is well aware of the influence of outside groups and their effect on the role of campaign committees. There was no lack of attack ads, phone calls or mail last year when the party fell further into the Senate minority, and it’s made controlling the message more difficult for the committees.

Despite that, Collins said he believes the experience of the past four years in this new world will help.

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