WASHINGTON – The attack ads may be vicious,but with five days left before midterm elections a rare meeting between top political operatives fighting for control of the Senate managed to reveal some common ground.
At a lunch sponsored by Politico and Bank of America,National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Collins and his Democratic counterpart Guy Cecil delved deep into late-game campaign strategy.
Much of the Republican messaging in seats currently occupied by Democrats,Cecil said,has been to link their opponents to President Barack Obama and his policies that are unpopular with conservative voters. He said the Democrats’ winning strategy will be to keep this election local.
But Collins said Republicans have been successful in keeping this election about home-state issues,too: “We’ve framed it through the prism of incumbents who voted with the president over 90 percent of the time,” he said.
Cecil said his party’s strategy is to make voters concentrate on the two candidates on the ballot,and not how things are going in Washington. He has even barred Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staff from talking to voters. Instead,Cecil wants all voter contact to come from local volunteers.
“We aren’t going to nationalize this election and play on the plane of the Republican party,” Cecil said.
Also on the two directors’ minds,and a common concern for them,is candidates losing control of what’s said about them in TV ads — even by those within their own party.
With more lax campaign finance laws allowing increased outside spending on elections,Cecil said some candidates are in charge of only 20 percent of their TV advertisements. This opens up the possibility of well-meaning financiers to stray from the candidates’ message,or to run attack ads that the campaign wouldn’t choose to air on its own.
“I’m worried candidates have less and less say of what’s on TV,” Cecil said.
The two also agreed on the importance of technology.
Republicans were caught off guard by highly modernized campaign operations Democrats have coordinated since 2008,Collins said. He likened the process of changing his party’s campaign technology to turning around an elephant – you have to slap it. Hard.
That slap,Collins said,was the 2012 election,when Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate and earned Obama a second White House term. Since then,Republican campaigns have recalculated their polling methodology and have gone through a culture shift to bring more statistically minded advisers into their operations.
“After 2012,we learned a lot of lessons,” Collins said. “We’re feeling good about where we are.”
As of Thursday afternoon,Fivethirtyeight.com gives Republicans a 67 percent chance of winning the Senate,while the Washington Post offers a much more definite outlook at 93 percent,in favor of Republicans. In an article published Wednesday in Politico Magazine,Sabato’s Crystal Ball declared it’s time to “bet on a GOP Senate majority.”
But many believe how the parties will fare in this election is still uncertain. Polls for several races seem to lock the candidates permanently within the margin of error,or show a back-and-forth that makes it difficult to predict who will win.
And though they may have agreed on certain elements of campaign strategy,Collins’ and Cecil’s predictions for who will control the upper house in Congress weren’t even close.
The Democratic executive director?
And the Republican?
“We feel great where we are.”
Reach reporter Sean McMinn at [email protected] or 202-408-1488. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.