But that promised innovation has run into the head winds of contract disputes, suspicions about data firms' political loyalties and friction with the tea party. Voter information is being collected out in the field by a jumble of firms not always working in concert. Among them is a Koch brothers-funded outfit that one day could eclipse the national GOP's.
As a result, Republicans are heading toward 2016 with that crucial data being collected in systems that don't communicate seamlessly, experts say — and may not by election day.
“There is a clear sense on the Republican side that they need to catch up,” said Eitan Hersh, a Yale University political science professor and expert on political data mining. “But there is not a clear sense of how they should be doing it, and who should take the lead.”
In Washington, RNC officials take exception to any suggestion that the party is lagging behind. They say Republicans are positioned exactly as they should be following an enormous investment in technology talent and infrastructure that helped them bolster their House majority and win control of the Senate in November.
But the GOP doesn't have what the Democrats do.
Candidates on that side, from the top of the ticket to the bottom, utilize the same computer platform in all 50 states. Every time a volunteer in the field talks to a voter, information is added to a mega-file. The party endorses one product that every state works through, called VoteBuilder.
“The honest truth is, Democrats are ahead of Republicans because of their fundamental belief in the collective,” said Vincent Harris, digital director of last year's reelection campaign for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “This is very much a clash of ideologies, playing out through campaign tactics.”Maybe, but there is another dimension. Democrats hold the White House. It is much easier for in-party national committees to make decisions stick because they have the presidential hammer. That's why the Republicans were ahead in the middle of the Bush years.