It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that Arkansas Democrats have decided it is going to be tough to win on their party’s platform this next year. And with President Obama carrying the banner nationally for them, they are choosing to invest in opposition research on Arkansas Republicans with hopes that they can throw as much mud as possible and hope something sticks.
This past quarter – according to their finance report – they spent almost $60,000 on several "consultants." It is vague from the report exactly what these consultants were paid for, but we do know a little bit about one of them – Reger Research. This is the firm of Alan Reger – one of Washington D.C.’s top opposition researchers.
Here is what Reger had to say in a paper he wrote in 2001 for Campaigns and Elections entitled "Opposition Research: How to Get It Right."
"Opposition research has become an essential part of modern campaigns," wrote Reger. "There are two parts to winning any competitive election. One part is demonstrating that your candidate is competent, capable and has values that match the values of the electorate, and the other is demonstrating that your opponent is incompetent, unethical or does not share and represent the values of the electorate. To do this a campaign must conduct research."
It is apparent to me Arkansas Democrats are looking at polling data and realizing it might be difficult to win with the first part, so they are having to dig up any dirt they can find and sling it around as fast and furiously as they can at Republicans. So how does an oppo researcher go about this? Reger explains.
"Make sure the researcher you hire will focus on the political, as well as on the personal background of the candidate. These are very different skills. One involves analyzing legislation and actions by executive branch officials, while the other involves public records, including the collection and analysis of court, property and business records."
Going after a candidate’s personal life seems to be the course Reger prefers. But connecting the oppo research to the subsequent attacks is tricky as the information is almost always leaked anonymously (See Politico and whoever is leaking oppo on Cain’s past for an example nationally).
One example of its use in Arkansas could be the recent attacks on the daycare business of Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork. It is unclear if this is a result of Reger’s research, but it certainly has his signature.
If you haven’t read about it, the liberal Washington-based group, "Americans for Separation of Church and State" sued Harris for asking workers at his daycare to "share the love of Jesus" with the students. The group is about as liberal as any group in the United States with positions such as opposition to "In God We Trust" for our national motto and opposition to laws requiring marriage to be between a man and woman.
Is there a direct connection? Impossible to say as the organization declined to tell the Arkansas News Bureau where they got their information on Harris.
It is fascinating to watch Arkansas Democrats crawl in bed with such an extreme liberal organization and a hard ball oppo Washington researcher. Ironic that it is largely funded by Gov. Beebe’s $881,000 donation to the Democratic Party of Arkansas when Beebe has spoken out so often against "Washington politics."
Of course, Beebe is no stranger to Reger as his campaign paid him over $156,000 for opposition research during his latest campaign, which he used quite effectively against his opponent Jim Keet. Reger is close friends with Beebe’s campaign manager and one of the Arkansas Democrats’ leading consultants, Zac Wright, and even served as a groomsman in Wright’s wedding last year. Wright is currently managing Clark Hall’s campaign for Congress.
Now of course, oppo research is nothing new and both sides have been engaging in the practice for years. But a state party in Arkansas putting significant resources into opposition research in state legislative races to this level and this early is something new.
This is likely due to several factors. First, the fight for a majority in both statehouse chambers is going to be close with the Republicans having the most legitimate shot they have ever had at taking one or both chambers. And with no statewide race other than Congressional races, they can focus heavily on the state legislature. Secondly, the Democratic Party of Arkansas with $1.5 million in the bank has the money to spend. If Republicans had a similar war chest, it is likely they would be investing in some oppo research as well.
One thing is clear. It is going to be a long, dirty 2012 election cycle.