The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) surveyed candidates, staff and consultants involved in 20 Senate races over the past three elections. The single biggest problem identified was poor communication support in dealing with the fast pace of modern campaigns, GOP strategists said.
For example, when candidates made gaffes in debates or local interviews, it would sometimes take days to repair the damage. The NRSC dispatched senior media advisers from Washington to stumbling campaigns in places such as North Dakota and Wisconsin in 2012 and Nevada and Kentucky in 2010.
They lost three of those races, and the NRSC postmortem determined that by the time the top advisers got to the states, it was too late to fix the problems. In 2014, they hope to avoid falling behind and to use the disparity in the number of seats up for grabs to their advantage.
The NRSC is planning at least eight boot camps for staff in states with competitive races. Kevin McLaughlin, a veteran operative hired to work with campaign staff around the country, will run the communications schools with an eye toward preventing mishaps. He will also be in charge of a kind of campaign fire department, charged with quickly putting out blazes once mistakes are made.
NRSC officials say they are also taking a new approach to contested primaries.
In 2010, the committee endorsed preferred candidates, only to see five of them defeated. In 2012, the NRSC chose to make no endorsements and provided only behind-the-scenes guidance to its preferred candidates.
This time, the committee intends to stay neutral unless a particularly undesirable nominee begins to emerge. In addition, if Democratic groups wade into GOP primaries to help a candidate they deem weaker and easier to beat, the NRSC promises to fight back.