Sitting just inches from his Democratic counterpart, Republican strategist Rob Collins bragged Thursday about two of his party's recent opposition research hits on Senate candidates, and in the process offered a glimpse on how a couple of political scoops came to be published.
One was a front-page New York Times story from July that exposed how Senator John Walsh of Montana had plagiarized chunks of his final paper for the Army War College. A GOP researcher–the same one who helped call into question the authenticity of Elizabeth Warren's claims of Native American heritage during her 2012 Senate campaign–read Walsh's paper and was surprised to see "it was very pro-Bush" and "neo-con," said Collins, executive director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The researcher put the paper through a plagiarism-detection program that scours the Internet for blocks of similar text and "the entire last five pages turned bright red," he said. The Army War College has since revoked Walsh's Master Degree, and the Democrat decided not to seek reelection.
The other story, published in the National Review, centered on documents that outlined Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn's campaign strategy, including some insights into what the campaign thought were Nunn's weaknesses. "It was an unsecured Google document on the web," accessible to anyone who did an internet search for Nunn, he said.
Once Collins' team found the Nunn documents, they were careful not to let too many people view them. "We were afraid they would see a bunch of outside clicks into the thing," he said. Instead, the NRSC dropped the opposition research right after the Republican primary runoff to keep Nunn off-balance while their own nominee, David Perdue, restocked his campaign account.
The behind-the-scenes, orchestrated attacks were outlined in unusual detail at a Washington lunch sponsored by Politico featuring Collins and Democrat Guy Cecil, the top strategists at their parties' Senate campaign committees.
While the two disagree on most things, Cecil and Collins did have one unifying thought: the tsunami of outside money being spent on campaign ads is bad for politics. "Candidates have less and less of a say in what is actually happening in their races," Cecil said. "It's not uncommon for a Senate candidate to have 20 percent of the voice on television." That means "80 percent of the advertising—70 percent of the advertising—is something that is completely out of your control on both sides. And I'm not sure if it is the way that we want to run campaigns."
"That's where Guy and I agree," Collins said.
Here are a few of the other highlights from the lunch, which was moderated by Politico's Mike Allen.
Bellwether races you'll be watching on Election Night?
Guy Cecil: Georgia and Iowa.
Rob Collins: New Hampshire and North Carolina.
Closest Senate races in the country?
Guy Cecil: Georgia, Colorado and Iowa.
Rob Collins: North Carolina and New Hampshire.
Expected cost of a run-off election in Louisiana?
Guy Cecil: If control of the Senate comes down to who votes in Louisiana, the campaign could cost between $35 million and $45 million.
Rob Collins: Agreed.
Why is the NH Senate race closer than expected?
Rob Collins: Republican Scott Brown "has run the race he predicted he'd run," Collins said, referring to Brown's plans to spend most of his time retail politicking. And the September primary, one of the latest in the country, meant Republicans didn't unite behind Brown until recently.
Guy Cecil: "New Hampshire is a notoriously fickle state."
Best campaign surrogate this year?
Guy Cecil: Bill and Hillary Clinton. And for energizing the base, Elizabeth Warren.
Rob Collins: Barack Obama. (He then added John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.)
Worst candidate of the cycle?
Guy Cecil: Republican Georgia Senate candidate David Perdue. "It's not often a candidate stands up in the middle of a debate and says he was sued by 2,000 women," he said, a reference to a recent campaign gaffe.
Rob Collins: Democratic North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan. The Republicans have been hitting her hard on federal stimulus funds awarded to her husband's firm. She supported the stimulus bill.