NRSC Looks to Modernize

Posted January 14, 2009 at 5:31pm

In his first meeting with reporters of the 2010 election cycle, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) acknowledged Wednesday that the committee needs to “modernize” and better leverage new technology on the campaign trail if it wants to keep up with its Democratic counterparts.

“Clearly we’ve been beat in the 2008 cycle by the unprecedented use of technology when it comes to communicating with people and raising small-dollar contributions,” Cornyn said at a news conference at the NRSC’s Capitol Hill headquarters. “We’re going to make up for that.”

One component of that effort will be to hire a new chief technology officer for the committee who will use new communication tools — be it text messaging, social networking sites or other emerging technologies — to better connect the committee and Senate candidates with supporters and donors.

Cornyn believes those efforts — backed by a new, regionally structured fundraising organization — will go a long way in making up the financial disadvantage Republicans have suffered in comparison to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over the past two cycles. During the 2008 cycle, the NRSC was only able to raise about $91 million compared to the $154 million raised by the DSCC.

“The money side is the one area where in the last two cycles we’ve consistently found ourselves at a disadvantage, and we have to establish parity or close to parity there,” Cornyn said.

Democrats say Cornyn’s vision for the NRSC sounds nice, but they’ve heard it before.

In 2007, the NRSC also made technological modernization a priority after then-NRSC Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) admitted that Democrats had an edge when it came to leveraging Internet savvy into fundraising success and electoral wins.

By mid-year, the NRSC had hired press secretaries for blogger outreach as well as an in-house Web designer and video producer to help GOP campaigns. The NRSC also built a production studio at its headquarters for candidates to cut Web ads.

“Senate Republicans’ problems have never been about technology, and they won’t be fixed by just buying a couple of new computers,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Miller said. “Their problem is a lack of enthusiasm either inside the Beltway or beyond for their core beliefs, which leads to too many retirements, too few recruits and not enough money coming in the door.”

But Cornyn said he’s basing his new vision for the NRSC’s financial structure on lessons he has learned from his own successful campaigns in Texas. Known as a formidable fundraiser, Cornyn brought in about $18 million for his re-election campaign in the previous cycle and he said leveraging new technology was important to those efforts.

“Cornyn achieved tremendous success last cycle utilizing new media to connect bloggers through a state network, communicate his message outside the traditional media filter and raise money online,” NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. “In fact, his 2008 digital campaign was recently recognized as one of the best in the nation by Campaigns & Elections. So as NRSC chair, he intends to help bring that same level of success to other Republican campaigns and work with them to strengthen their new media efforts this cycle.”

Meanwhile, in what appears to be an about-face from one component of Ensign’s fundraising strategy, Cornyn said he will not agitate for transfers from sitting Senators as a prominent method of filling committee coffers.

“I’ve always wondered about the basic health of a political party that lives off the contributions of its candidates,” Cornyn said. “It ought to be the job of the party structure to help those candidates raise money and to get elected, not sort of cannibalize their efforts.”

Former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) proved successful in appealing to his caucus colleagues for several million dollars in transfers during the 2006 and 2008 cycles when he headed the committee. But similar pleas from Ensign to give to the NRSC fell largely on deaf ears in the 2008 cycle. Cornyn said he would be following a different course.

By the end of the 2008 cycle, the DSCC benefitted from almost $16 million in transfers from Senators’ re-election accounts and another $1.3 million from leadership political action committees. The NRSC was only able to garner about $3 million in transfers from campaign accounts and about $1 million from leadership PACs.

“On one hand it’s a lot harder to go to these people and say, ‘Give us all your accumulated money,’ when they are looking at campaigns like we had in 2008 where even when given the financial advantage we had incumbents get beat,” Cornyn said Wednesday. “So while I hope to get some good-hearted Senators to transfer money … I think when you look at where the money comes from that’s a small part. That doesn’t get us very far, and we need to do better in other areas to make up for our competitive disadvantage when it comes to transfers.”