The move follows a scathing spring review by the Republican National Committee, which assailed the party and the campaign of its 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, for falling short in digital marketing and voter outreach. The report called for more “intellectual curiosity” and for party members to be “more sophisticated” with data and to improve collaboration. In short, it said, “Republicans do not do this very well.”
Although they’re behind, Republican officials say their new effort could at some point put them ahead of Democrats, who are assessing how to make the Obama campaign system available to other party candidates. The RNC program will be housed largely inside the party structure, giving GOP candidates up and down the ballot easy access to data, party officials said.
“We’re thinking big,” said Andrew Barkett, 32, a former Facebook engineer who joined the RNC in June to oversee the new system. Barkett describes what he’s building as a “tool belt” for GOP candidates that will prove more effective than the “locked treasure chest” created by the Obama campaign.
Some in the party, although welcoming the effort, caution that leaders shouldn’t expect it to solve more fundamental problems, such as how Republicans can broaden their appeal before the next presidential campaign.
The RNC plan “addresses the data problem, but you still have a content problem — one that will affect all the candidates in 2016,” said Zac Moffatt, co-founder of the pro-GOP data firm Targeted Victory and Romney’s 2012 digital director. “You can find all the voters, but you still need to determine what you are going to say to them.”
Obama’s 2012 campaign made its mark by hiring dozens of A-list software engineers from Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Silicon Valley firms. It also opened a San Francisco field office where volunteer engineers who kept their day jobs in the valley pitched in on nights and weekends.
Barkett, whose résuméincludes stints at Google and Livestream, is devoting much of his time to traveling the country, PowerPoint in hand, selling GOP donors on the idea that he and his team have the ability to technologically “leapfrog” the Democrats in time for the midterms.
“I’m Andy — and I’m here to help,” reads one slide of his presentation, which, alongside a photo of a smiling Barkett, describes him as a “self-taught coder, expert nerd-herder, patriotic American, and proud Republican.”