What the aspiring GOP candidates will need to mount a modern-day tech race are campaign veterans with a wide range of seasoned digital skill sets — for fighting TV admen over budgets, writing fundraising email copy that doesn’t go straight to the trash bin and in using data the right way to find potential donors and voters.
But that kind of tech savvy doesn’t just get made in a Harvard dorm room. It comes from live-fire experience in the latest election cycles.
So while Democrats contemplate a small field where much of President Barack Obama’s vaunted campaign tech capacity transfers to Hillary Clinton, the GOP is facing a different dilemma. The tech experts it does have are likely to be scattered into a dozen or more campaigns.
“There is a massive talent gap,” said Wesley Donehue, a South Carolina-based GOP digital strategist. “Half those campaigns will have digital staff that don’t know what the hell they’re doing. They’ll end up with some dude who plays on Facebook all day, which somehow makes him a digital expert.”
Added another well-placed Republican digital campaign operative: “I’d say there’s only 10 people who are capable of overseeing a team and fighting with all the other departments for budget.”At Bloomberg, Steven Freiss profiles GOP tech guru Vincent Harris:
His mission has not been to re-invent the digital campaign—the Democrats have been doing it well for several cycles now—so much as to drag his side, the Republican side, into the future.
“People now spend an average of 3.9 hours a day watching television and 3.8 hours online outside work,” he says. “By 2016, that’ll flip, people will spend more time online. On mobile devices, people spend an average of 45 seconds on someone’s website! How do you get someone to stay for longer than 45 seconds? That’s what’s transforming politics. Everything has to be pithy, everything has to be short, everything has to be succinct. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Much like what has happened in journalism and other businesses, the digital campaign is becoming the backbone of every element of the operation, a tail that wags the dog. In the case of McConnell—a marquee example that Harris hopes will serve as a new model—he junked the senator’s old database software and replaced it with a new system of managing lists of potential voters, donors, and volunteers. He’s created new methods for keeping track of how well or badly voters have responded to phone calls, e-mails, and mailers. And he’s got a 24/7 social media operation—the 2014 answer to the war room.