- ‘Tis the Season: London florist creates $4.6 million Christmas wreath
- No tailgating allowed at Super Bowl XLVIII
- Pentagon to transport African troops to Central African Republic
- Chinese man fed up with his girlfriend’s shopping jumps to his death
- Ukraine leader to talk with protesters; Washington urges caution
- Pope Francis: A nun saved my life
- Israeli P.M. Netanyahu backs out of Mandela funeral
- Elian Gonzalez makes first trip outside Cuba since custody battle
- U.S., British intelligence agents enter online sci-fi world to spy on gamers
- Sarah Palin to host the outdoors show ‘Amazing America’
Learning to love oppo researchers, whistle-blowers of democracy
GW professor guides course in the not-so-dark arts
Mr. Berg, the students asserted, is a fiscal flip-flopper. An entitlement-slashing senior boogeyman. An Earth-hating puppet of Big Oil. An out-of-touch plutocrat who not only favors tax cuts for millionaires such as himself but also has voted against raising the minimum wage in his state — despite being caught on camera not knowing how much the minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) actually is.
“That’s bad,” Mr. Di Resta said. “When I do defensive work with candidates, I always ask them: How much is the price of a loaf of bread? Of a gallon of milk? Of a gallon of gas? They have to know that. They will be asked.”
For their midterm exam, the students were asked to come up with a series of arguments — termed “hits” — against each candidate. The catch? Each hit had to be rooted in documented, verifiable facts — such as Mr. Berg accepting campaign donations from gas companies, or his past votes to cut Medicare, roll back senior prescription drug benefits and raise taxes on nursing homes.
The exam simulated the real-life work of opposition researchers, who spend inordinate amounts of time wading through voting records, speeches, statements, articles, video clips, and public and business records, compiling comprehensive records of candidates that are sifted and sorted for possible political vulnerabilities.
Has a candidate been sued? Has he paid his taxes? If he has already held elected office, what’s his voting record?
Also: Is there laughably awkward-looking video of him driving around in a battle tank, a la 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis?
“We do due diligence,” said Dennis Yedwab, a longtime Democratic opposition researcher and former business partner of Mr. Di Resta. “I’ve spent a huge amount of my life sitting in libraries, looking through massive amounts of public documents, trying to figure out how to tell the story my campaign wants to tell.”
Once opposition researchers compile a final report on a candidate — also called a “book” (with good reason: John McCain’s 2008 book on Mitt Romney was 200 pages, longer than “Treasure Island”) — the results generally are used by campaign pollsters to test and refine promising lines of political attack.
Sometimes, message massaging isn’t necessary: In 2002, Republican Mike Taylor withdrew from a Senate race in Montana after the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee paid for a television spot that featured video footage of the GOP candidate wearing an open-necked shirt and applying lotion to the face of a man in a barber’s chair, culled from an old ad for Mr. Taylor’s beauty supply business.
“They only ran that ad once,” Mr. Di Resta said. “Those of us on the Democratic side still talk about that. The researcher that found it heard a rumor and kept calling around, going and going and going until he had that piece of information. You have to be dogged.
“We call that a silver bullet. But those are very rare. We have members of Congress who have survived sex scandals, who have been arrested. It takes a lot to derail a political career.”
More often, Mr. Di Resta said, opposition researchers find information that helps campaigns shape negative narratives about rival candidates. Forget silver bullets; think death by 1,000 paper cuts, each sheet ripped from the same book.
Case in point? During the 2000 presidential campaign, Republican opposition researchers came across three disparate tidbits that were used to paint Democratic candidate Al Gore as a serial exaggerator at best, a pathological liar at worst:
• Mr. Gore’s statement during a CNN interview that “during my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
- Taking to Twitter: Everybody's Oscar night in 140 characters
- Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin cry foul at WWE Tea Party stereotypes
- Oscar Pistorius and the 'roid rage' defense: It's no Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card
- Spatial media: Astronaut Chris Hadfield live chats from 220 miles above earth
- Hero-worship for a cold-blooded killer: The cult of Christopher Dorner
By Tom Fitton
New photos confirm the attack's coordination and its cover-up
- Chinese man fed up with his girlfriend's shopping jumps to his death
- Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu backs out of Nelson Mandela funeral
- Obama lied about Syrian chemical attack, 'cherry-picked' intelligence: report
- CURL: Obama tells a whopper on IRS scandal
- Lawmakers see 'false narrative' of Obama as a terrorist fighter
- MSNBC host: Obamacare a 'wealthy white men' racist word
- Satanists petition for statue at Oklahoma Statehouse
- Inside China: Nuclear submarines capable of widespread attack on U.S.
- MILLER: Brady Campaign says Colorado recalls due to NRA, not grassroots opposition to gun control
- Ted Cruz sees legal landmines ahead for Obamacare
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
The Constitution: Every issue, every time. No exceptions, no excuses. And how to get from here to there.
Crystal Wright is a black conservative woman living in Washington, D.C.
All of the world’s problems, solved on your back porch
Why can’t humans just be free to be humans?
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow