Sept. 15, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

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.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee plans to expand its press operation to train campaigns earlier in the cycle on how to better handle the kind of candidate missteps that have plagued its party’s nominees.

The goal? To avoid what’s become known in GOP circles as “Todd Akin moments.”

“The campaigns that jumped off message not only infected themselves, they infected all the rest of the campaigns,” said Rob Collins, the new NRSC executive director, in his first extensive interview on the job. “So in this age of fractured but continuous, three-dimensional communication, we have to constantly plan for that and train for that and build for that.”

During the past two cycles, flawed candidates such as Akin, the former Missouri congressman who lost a targeted Senate race, helped derail the GOP’s hopes of winning a Senate majority. Costly primaries produced ineffective general-election nominees, costing the NRSC five otherwise-winnable races since 2010.

While candidate control is often beyond the NRSC’s abilities, the committee will ultimately be judged on whether the party can avoid such troubles and pick up the six seats needed for a majority in 2014.

So for the past two months, incoming NRSC leadership surveyed senators, candidates and operatives from 16 winning and losing campaigns from 2010 and 2012. As a result, the NRSC’s new leadership discovered its party lacked talented communications professionals in the field able to capably run a campaign press operation that could handle such situations.

The fruit of that research is a bifurcated leadership of the NRSC press office that senior operatives hope will continue its success inside the Beltway and expand its influence outside it. The new duties will include working to build trusting relationships with campaigns and state parties early in the cycle, ensuring campaigns are equipped for the rigors of a statewide campaign and — conceding the party has fallen behind on this — fostering talent.

Bring In the ‘Alpha Dogs’

Collins was already two months behind the Democratic competition when he stepped foot inside the Ronald Reagan Republican Center on the second day of the new year. There was little time for the soul-searching that Republicans as a whole underwent after the 2012 elections.

Collins, 35, who is on leave from Purple Strategies, moved to hire communications, digital, finance and political teams. Their first project? Decipher what went wrong last cycle and what the committee could do, if anything, to fix it.

A major part of that solution is an expanded communications operation that Collins, Communications Director Brad Dayspring and Senior Adviser Kevin McLaughlin said will “redefine” what a conventional press shop does.

Collins will base the NRSC’s new communications shop on the model he established for his former boss, then-House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., in 2009.

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