Inside Miller’s office, where he and Pounder are talking through the plans for 2014—they expect a budget of $10 million to $15 million, according to the Huffington Post—there’s a bookshelf with a copy of What A Party!, the chest-thumping, golf-game-reminiscing memoir by now-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. It’s a memento of their first real loss. America Rising came up with one of the most theoretically damaging hits on McAuliffe, a promotional video for his troubled car company, GreenTech. The man who’d repeatedly talked about bringing a car company from China to America stood in Outer Mongolia, grinning about the 15 million square foot facility going up there. Neither Republican campaigns nor reporters had noticed it. America Rising found it buried on the GreenTech site. Other hits followed, all on this theme, but McAuliffe won anyway.
“McAuliffe was a better candidate, no doubt, than four years ago,” offers Miller. “He was on message. They knew their candidate’s weaknesses. He benefited by not being a new candidate—he goes off message and, oh, that’s just Terry, acting crazy! That’s just Terry, being folksy again. In 2013 a lot of the media felt that stuff had been asked and answered.”
“The campaign kept him from doing one-on-one interviews,” says Pounder.
“The one interview he did, the [Virginia political reporter] Ryan Nobles interview, we used in every ad! The ad that tested the best was from that interview.”
“Very few press gaggles after his events,” adds Pounder.
“But hiding a candidate is not a path to success in statewide races,” says Miller. “That’s not a path to success for [Kentucky Senate candidate] Alison Lundergan Grimes or [Georgia Senate candidate] Michelle Nunn. The hard questions are going to get asked and answered.”
America Rising is counting on candidates being questioned in states that have been voting Republican for president or where the local Democratic party has been losing elections: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina.
“Think about where the battleground map is,” says Miller. “This or that remark might not be that damning in Massachusetts, but many of the competitive races are happening on turf that Romney won.”
Republicans need to win six Senate seats to take total control of Congress, and they realize they could have done this earlier if they hadn’t nominated losers in a few 2010 and 2012 races, or if millions of dollars hadn’t been blown on stupid ads. All their tracking can serve as a foundation for the 2014 contests.
“Something in a research file now that doesn’t seem relevant may be relevant six months from now,” says Pounder. “The benefit of working on this full time, through the cycle, is that you’ll stay aware of it.”
“I think there’s a misconception that this is happening in order to catch [Iowa Senate candidate] Bruce Braley saying he’s upset with the lack of towels in the House gym during the shutdown. That’s fun, that gets on Jimmy Kimmel, that’s not the point. Three months from now if there’s a controversy regarding some local official in Arkansas, we can go back and we know what Mark Pryor said about it. When the NSA thing popped last summer, probably nothing any of these candidates said about the NSA had ever raised a red flag. But now we’ve catalogued that information, so when the next NSA pops up, we know what they said.”
“If we were sitting here a year ago,” says Pounder, “nobody would have said ‘if you like your plan, you can keep your plan’ would be an issue. OK. Kay Hagan has said it numerous times. Mark Pryor has said it once or twice. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Then you go back to everything they’re starting to say since the debate started. They didn’t just say, ‘if you like your plan you can keep it.’ They said, if you like your doctor, you can keep him.’ They said, ‘I do like the public option.’ They said, ‘maybe Obamacare didn’t go far enough.’ They were intricate players in the debate, and most of that is on video.”
Why would support for a public option hurt a candidate? “It fits in because you ask: You thought Obamacare’s implementation was bad? They wanted to go even further.” America Rising is the freezer of the Republican party, storing messages and narratives are, that can be taken out at the right moment, microwaved, and served to voters.