NRCC Turns The Tables

Web Site Attacks Frosh

Posted March 28, 2007 at 6:55pm

Republican leaders griped that they lost their grip on Capitol Hill last year in part because so many of the Democratic House and Senate challengers were political newcomers without legislative records that could be scrutinized.

But the National Republican Congressional Committee says that’s no longer the case and plans to slam 11 Democratic freshmen for “their real story” during the spring recess.

The NRCC today will launch a new Web site, www.TheRealDemocratStory.com, aimed at Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), Nancy Boyda (Kan.), Heath Shuler (N.C.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Tim Mahoney (Fla.). Jerry McNerney (Calif.), Zack Space (Ohio), Steve Kagen (Wis.), Christopher Carney (Pa.), Harry Mitchell (Ariz.) and Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.).

All 11 sit in districts that tend to vote Republican during presidential election years.

Each Member will get his or her own page highlighting “bad” votes and prominently displaying photos of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The sites will also track how often Members voted with their Democratic leadership.

With this new Web site, Republicans are trying to turn the tables on Democrats, who picked up 30 House and six Senate seats in November largely by tying GOP incumbents to President Bush’s unpopularity. Democrats also found ways to take fights over arcane procedures — such as Republicans denying Democrats the opportunity to bring alternatives to the House floor — and turning them into rallying cries.

“Tying endangered Members to leadership has proven to be an effective strategy in the past and we think the real story is just how tied-in these so-called conservative Members are to their very liberal leadership and this is an effort to expose that reality,” said NRCC spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger.

The new Web site is also part of the NRCC’s efforts to increase its savvy on the Internet and other “new media” technologies.

The committee will add targets to the Web site as the cycle progresses, eventually hitting all 61 Democratic House Members representing districts carried by Bush in 2004 — and possibly more, Boulanger said.

The Republicans plan to put negative information about the Democratic incumbents on the Web site before every recess, just as the Members are preparing to return to their districts to boast about their achievements on Capitol Hill.

Obvious additions to the list of targeted Democrats include incumbents who won heavily Republican districts because the GOP incumbent had a specific problem or scandal. For example, freshman Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) won in New York’s 20th district in part because her predecessor, former Rep. John Sweeney (R), saw his popularity drop as a number of mini-scandals made headlines.

Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) returned to Congress after losing in 2004 by beating the write-in candidate selected to replace former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R), who was under indictment and resigned from Congress before Election Day.

Incredulous House Democrats ask what votes the NRCC will highlight, noting that in their “100 hours” agenda they adopted several measures that are popular with voters, including stricter rules regarding lobbying; “pay-as-you-go” budget rules requiring all new spending or tax cuts be offset by reduced spending elsewhere in the budget; implementing the bulk of the 9/11 commission’s recommendations; increasing the minimum wage and funding for stem-cell research; lifting the ban prohibiting Medicare from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices; and cutting interest rates on student loans.

“It appears Republicans are confused about what took place these last 100 days,” said Doug Thornell, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“We’ve got a story to tell and they have a story to tell,” he said. “Their story is the same old story of falling in line and supporting the president’s failed stay-the-course, war-with-no-end strategy.”

The thrust of the NRCC plan is to localize the information and individualize each page.

The NRCC will deluge local editorial boards with information; arm local conservative radio shows with talking points; and send e-mails to registered Republicans in each district.

The e-mails — 1 million voters will be reached over the spring recess, according to the NRCC — will discuss events back in Washington, D.C., and “educate” local voters about their Members, Boulanger said.

The dispatches also will ask recipients to pass on the Web links to five friends, and the Web pages will solicit local Republicans to blog on the NRCC Web pages or to start their own blogs. The NRCC also will reach out to existing bloggers.

“We’re going to be in their faces,” Boulanger said.

Unlike some committee Web efforts, this will not be a one-time event, she stressed.

The pages will be updated constantly and the NRCC will blast out information in advance of every Congressional recess.

“We will use every tool available to highlight the records of Democrats who say one thing at home and do another in Washington,” Boulanger said. “This new site will be a real-time way for voters to compare how their once-Congressional candidates’ rhetoric matches with their newly elected Congressman’s record.”

Thornell said the NRCC is working out of desperation.

“They’re completely devoid of ideas and policies so they’re reverting to launching misleading Web sites,” he said.

Boulanger said Republicans recognized they had fallen behind Democrats when it came to using new media and that this is the first example of the committee’s dedication to “closing that gap.”

Former DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanual (Ill.) “made a real effort to be innovative and we didn’t match that effort last cycle,” said David Winston, a Republican pollster and Roll Call contributing writer. “It is good to see innovation coming out of the NRCC.”

A key component of the entire effort is something called “viral marketing.”

Viral marketing is all about word-of-mouth. Businesses frequently use the technique. It includes using social networks to enhance “brand awareness” or, in this case, to put such compelling information in the hands of Republican voters that they will want to share it with their friends and acquaintances.

The NRCC is not stopping with e-mails and Web pages.

Real evidence of its renewed focus on message innovation was last month’s hiring of Josh Shultz, the NRCC’s first-ever director of new media, Boulanger said.

Seeing how damning an unscripted moment caught on video and uploaded to the video Web site YouTube can be — think former-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) and “macaca” — the NRCC has created its own YouTube page.

The first video posted was called “freezer burn,” which featured Pelosi’s appearance on “Larry King Live” in which she had to correct King and say that the FBI found $90,000 in the freezer of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), not $500,000 as King had stated.

That video was viewed about 3,000 times, according to Boulanger.

Miscues and embarrassing moments like that are “something that we definitely will take advantage of in the future,” Boulanger said.