Opposition Tactics

Republican Group to Hatch Anti-Hillary Clinton Facebook Ad at Vegas Debate Venue

An outside GOP group is tweaking Democrats on their own Facebook apps Tuesday night inside the Las Vegas debate hall.

Hillary Clinton's supporters in Las Vegas for Tuesday night's debate may not appreciate what pops up on their iPhones and when they open the Facebook app.

Greeting them will be an ad, placed by Republican opposition research group America Rising, that documents some of the former secretary of state's worst debate moments (in their view, of course). The group's ad buy is designed to target Democrat-leaning users through Facebook's voter file—and it will specifically hit the feeds of users wandering anywhere inside the night's debate venue, the Wynn Hotel. (Facebook is a co-sponsor of the night's debate with CNN.) Facebook tracks just about everything its users are doing, including political candidates or issues that have received likes or shares. That type of information helps create individual voter files, which campaigns (or, in this case, a super-PAC), can utilize to target their ads. 

America Rising's venue-specific effort, which will also target Democrat-leaning users within one square mile of the hotel, is one example of how Republicans are trying to push through the Democrat-only noise of debate night. The 90-second digital spot, created by top GOP ad firm Poolhouse, is titled “Likable Enough,” a reference to then-Senator Barack Obama's swipe at Clinton during a 2008 Democratic primary debate.   

The ad represents yet another way political groups are utilizing data to explicitly target segments of the voting public. The difference here, at least compared to the work most campaigns, campaign committees and outside groups are using their data for, is that America Rising is explicitly seeking to needle Democrats, not, say, target undecided voters for persuasion or Republican-leaning voters who they need to turn out to vote.

For America Rising, which was started by former senior aides to 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has become a force with its ability to track, document and attack Democrats up and down ticket, it's all a part of the game. The group has a rapid response team set up for the debate, a new Web page specifically focused on tracking each minute and will be using social media and steady stream of e-mail blasts to reporters to highlight any real, or perceived gaffe spotted during the course of the night. It has become a tried and true strategy for the opposing political party during a primary debate. American Bridge, the Democratic Party's powerhouse opposition research group, was all hands on deck for the Republican debates. The Republican National Committee released a lengthy memo laying out their attack lines ahead of debate and had staff prepped an ready to blast Clinton throughout the debate, just as the Democratic National Committee did to GOP candidates during the first two Republican debates.

In the fight for the hearts and minds of reporters, and the precious “narrative” of how a debate unfolds, there's never too much flooding of the zone that can occur—even if it's designed solely to tweak Democrats inside the debate hall. But there are limits, it turns out. Colin Reed, America Rising's executive director, was sitting just outside the security line Tuesday afternoon trying to get into the debate a few hours before showtime. It turns out that the digital route may be the only way America Rising was going to get into room. Democrats, according to Reed, weren't willing to let him into the main event.