Do Republicans Need Better Negative Research?

Roll Call delivers the following report on the next campaign:

Senior Republican leaders are exploring ways to match the strong opposition research programs Democrats displayed in the last election cycle.

The Capitol Hill newspaper quotes an anonymous party strategist:

"There is a recognition that we were outmatched in on-the-ground field research and that something needs to be changed in order to generate the type of personal-driven, character-type research that Democrats launched very effectively against Republicans," the strategist said.

The strategist cited the North Dakota Senate race, noting that the best hits against Democratic Sen.-elect Heidi Heitkamp were that she supported the health care bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. The party is looking for richer research rather than vague policy research, the strategist said.

This is no doubt an appealing notion to campaign strategists looking for a quick fix to campaign setbacks. But the "character-type" problems that brought down high-profile Republican candidates last year were not the product of Democratic opposition research. They were the product of views that were abhorrent to a large number of voters.

Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin was brought down by his own repugnant remarks on rape. Ditto for Senate candidate Richard Mourdock in Indiana. Florida Representative Allen West proved more of a demagogue than a slim majority of his district's voters were willing to tolerate.  The "47 percent" video that troubled Mitt Romney's campaign wasn't produced by Democratic researchers (though much of the research on Bain & Co. was).

Negative research is standard operating procedure in campaigns. But it had little or nothing to do with the defeats of these and other candidates.

Perhaps when and if Senator Heitkamp runs for re-election, a crack opposition researcher will bring her campaign to its knees with some scandalous nugget. But don't count on it. It's far more likely that her electoral success or failure will stem from her public votes, statements and acts.  That's probably the realm where Republicans should be focusing their energies, as well.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

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