Republicans silent on future relationship with Romney digital consultants

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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As Republicans look to upgrade their technological capabilities, the party’s national leadership in Washington isn’t dropping any hints about whether the digital consultants who had called the shots for the Romney campaign have a future with the party.

When asked by The Daily Caller , the RNC, RSCC, and NRSC were all silent on the matter of consultants, particularly about the digital consulting firm Targeted Victory and its co-founder Zac Moffatt, Romney’s former digital director.

Moffatt and Targeted Victory — which made $71.9 million from the Romney campaign, according to campaign expenditure reports — took the brunt of the post-election criticism for the campaign’s technology failure.

While the makers of the Romney campaign’s failed GOTV tool, Project ORCA, slid off into the shadows, Moffatt defended the campaign’s digital efforts as a success – even going on a public-relations tour to tout his tactics in the face of increasingly heated criticism of the operation.

During one recent conversation, however, the RNC redirected TheDC’s attention to its Growth and Opportunity Project, which was unveiled in January to survey voters about their thoughts on future of the Republican Party.

The Growth and Opportunity Project was concocted by Republican leaders in Washington who had regrouped post-election in December 2012.

While the RNC survey had a clear focus on appealing to minorities, the site lacked any substantive mention of digital technology or data.

RNC spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski told TheDC that the organization expects that “the recommendations for how the GOP should move forward on issues like digital, data, ground game, etc.” will be announced on March 18 by RNC Chairman Reince Preibus at the National Press Club in Washington.

Kukowski was silent, however, on whether the Romney campaign’s digital consultants have a future with the party.

Recent talk of the organization hiring a new chief technology officer out of Silicon Valley by May 1 has put new attention on whether the party’s leadership is finally ready to make digital and data a new priority.

The young blood of the party has also been doing its own homework as it continues to push forward on efforts to evolve technologically beyond the campaign’s social media app gimmicks, and into more serious data analysis and targeting.

A landmark report published in December 2012 by Patrick Ruffini, president of the digital consulting firm Engage DC, documented the stark difference between the two campaign’s digital operations.

For example, not only did the Obama campaign use a so-called “persuadability score” to gauge voter susceptibility to campaign appeals, its campaign analytics team employed 50 people, including an embedded analytics team to measure the campaign’s internal operations.

The Romney campaign’s data team, by comparison, consisted of four people.

Ruffini’s report, according to Time’s Swampland blog, set the stage for further brainstorming by Ruffini and fellow Republican colleagues – including Katie Harbath, Facebook’s Republican campaign point person, Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson and National Review political columnist Reihan Salam.

All are part of a younger crop of Republicans looking to transform the party’s technology efforts into something more respectable and effective.

Despite Moffatt’s assertions during the post-election fallout that his team had achieved parity with their opponents, a recent study conducted by digital analytics firm comScore found that the Obama campaign’s online advertisements dwarfed anything done by the Romney campaign.

The study, published in February, stated that during 2012 both campaigns “spent deliberately on online display ad campaigns as the U.S. presidential election went underway.”

“Despite delivering more than a billion display ads overall, the Romney campaign was still significantly outmatched by the Obama campaign,” said the study, noting that ad impression trends “also showed differences in strategy.”

The Romney campaign’s online advertising efforts peaked at 409 million ads in July prior to the conventions, said the study, but the Obama campaign’s online advertising was already on a different level by the beginning of 2012.

“By the beginning of 2012 the campaign was delivering nearly 1 billion ads per month and reached an eventual peak of 2.5 billion just before the general election in October,” said the study.

The study illustrates the commitment to the online space the Obama campaign had that the Romney campaign did not, one Republican operative told TheDC.

Colin Delany with epolitics.com told TheDC he thought the report not only illustrated the differences between the two campaigns, but also showed that the Romney campaign underestimated how the Internet can be used as a grassroots organizing tool in modern campaigns.

“If your campaign has a grassroots emphasis from the beginning, that you win by people organizing their neighborhoods and turning out their neighbors, you’re going to run one kind of online advertising strategy,” said Delany.

“If you’re running a more traditional, top-down push-your-messages-out-to-the-voters, kind of campaign, you’re going to run a very different online advertising strategy,” he said, “and I think we saw which one works.”

Moffatt, the RSCC and the NRSC did not return TheDC’s request for comment for this story.

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