How competitive politics sharpened data tools and tactics - Axios
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How competitive politics sharpened data tools and tactics

Greg Ruben / Axios

A data technology boom over the past 15 years has shaped how campaigns use technology to source, distribute and leverage voter data. Each campaign cycle brought new technology tools and talent to the mix, and as the timeline below shows, underscores how much each party has learned from — and innovated on top of— the other's successes and failures.

Why it matters: After the 2016 presidential election, both Republicans and Democrats are evaluating their past digital performance and strategizing for upcoming races. After Trump's surprise victory, sources say a major operational shakeup is in store for Democrats, who've enjoyed the lead in the digital race for nearly a decade. GOP operatives, who significantly grew their data and ground games since 2008, are continuing to develop big data platforms and new media tactics to better target specific voters while also broadening their base.

If you were sick of online political ads this last cycle, just wait for 2020.

Timeline of Republican and Democratic advances in campaign technology use over the past 15 years:

2002: GOP tries to rebound from Gore ground game: Observing the sophistication of Al Gore's ground game in 2000, Republicans, led by the RNC's Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, introduced a 72-hour program to organize field operations called "STOMP," the Strategic Task Force to Organize and Mobilize People for the 2002 midterms.

2004: Kerry lags behind Bush data infrastructure: STOMP served as a precursor for a Republican field data operation program called Team Leader in 2004. At that time, Republicans also brought in one of the first micro-targeting data firms called TargetPoint. John Kerry, in the meantime, found himself battling against an incumbent president with an established field program that Rove had strengthened while Kerry's team was focused on his primary run. In response to their loss, Democrats began to model their online toolset off of Team Leader to prepare for 2006 midterms.

2005: After Bush, GOP "dropped the data ball" and Howard Dean picked it up: A Republican source said that after Bush's 2004 reelection, Republicans "dropped the ball" on building and maintaining voter files and data, leaving an opening for Democrats to begin creating a solid data infrastructure for the next cycle. Learning from his 2004 loss, Howard Dean, the newly instated chairman of the Democratic National Committee, began advocating for a "50-state strategy" to mobilize the Democrats' ground game data collection to improve voter targeting.

2006-2007: Progressives formed their own data strategy: While the DNC strengthened their data tactics to support a primary candidate, progressives began to create their own data strategy. Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for policy Harold Ickes created Data Warehouse (later called Catalist) with a $10 million endowment from George Soros to house and analyze data outside of the DNC for progressives to use, should they decide to challenge a candidate in the primary.

2008: Obama revolutionized the data campaign, and the GOP took notice: Obama's 2008 campaign victory is largely attributed to its in-house data and analytics team. The campaign hired a data analytics firm called Strategic Telemetry to do similar work to what TargetPoint had done for Republicans in the previous cycle, only this time they were more sophisticated. The campaign used Strategic Telemetry to match voter file data with publicly available consumer data from the census and voter registration files. After the success of Obama's 2008 data machine, the RNC began to look towards 2012, knowing there would be an open seat within their party, with no incumbent to provide a data infrastructure. The RNC put out a proposal and hired Data Trust for the job, who they still use today.

2010: Data technology sees major advances: After the 2008 campaign ended, the DNC began to build out the data technology infrastructure that would be used in the 2012 presidential election and on the Republican side, the RNC was also building their own internal data team. It was the first time that hardware, used to store large amounts of data, and cutting-edge tools, like programmatic ad buying and email list-matching, were being developed for commercial use.

2012: DNC taps Obama data talent while GOP focuses on strategy: Some of the DNC's top analytics talent moved to the Obama campaign to recreate the President's 2008 success. The DNC enlisted TargetSmart, a data technology and consulting firm, to help enhance 2010 voter files for 2012 by using analytics databases that could store data to quickly answer questions about voters. They also worked with Catalist to create data models to overlay onto programmatic ad buys that could be used for persuasion and fundraising efforts — a technique the Republicans would champion four years later. Meanwhile, Republicans — coming off another presidential loss — focused their efforts on consolidating data between Data Trust and the RNC to get ready for a 2016 data comeback.

2013: Campaign vets spur data vendor growth: After 2012, some of the Obama campaign staffers started new data firms, like Blue Labs and Civis Analytics. Both firms would be used to help the Hillary Campaign the following cycle. Republicans started to lay the groundwork for 2016, talking with different data providers and vendors that they could partner with to help model and analyze their voter files.

2016: Republicans and Democrats invest big time in data: By the time 2016 rolled around, both the DNC and RNC had racked up a significant number of data partners and vendors to create the most refined, and sophisticated voter files and models. Republicans worked with their vendors; Deep Root, TargetPoint. The DNC continued to work with TargetSmart to refine their data and the Clinton campaign worked with Blue Labs staff that had joined the campaign to focus on data analytics in-house.

We wrote two other stories on this topic:

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Civis Analytics worked with the Clinton campaign in 2016.

Moore, Bannon go after establishment, media, accusers on election eve

Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP

Roy Moore told Alabama voters "if you don't believe in my character, don't vote for me" in an election eve rally that featured Steve Bannon, and in which the participants repeatedly challenged the credibility and motives of the women who have accused Moore of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teens.

Why it matters: Moore emerged Monday night after hardly appearing publicly in recent weeks with a group of anti-establishment surrogates and a closing argument — the woman accusing me are lying, the media is conspiring against me and I'll represent your voice and Trump's agenda in the "swamp" of Washington.

  • Both Moore and Bannon took swipes at the "establishment," including Richard Shelby, Alabama's senior senator who has publicly opposed Moore. Bannon even indirectly mocked Ivanka Trump — alluding to her quote that "there's a special place in hell for people who prey on children" — while heaping praise upon her father.
  • Bannon said the GOP establishment was only using Trump to get a corporate tax cut, and would quickly abandon him afterward. He told voters that the message they should take from recent events is that if you try to challenge the status quo like Trump and Moore, "they're going to try and destroy you and your family."
  • Moore was introduced by his wife, who portrayed her husband as the victim of a coordinated character assassination attempt by the media and said, "our sails are torn, but our anchor holds."
  • Moore criticized his opponent Doug Jones for supporting "transgender rights," gay marriage and legal abortion.

Controversial moments:

  • Seeking to discount claims of prejudice, Moore's wife Kayla said "one of our attorneys is a Jew," along with some friends.
  • As Jonathan Allen of NBC News points out, Bannon mocked MSNBC's Joe Scarborough for not getting into as prestigious a college as he did — but Scarborough went to the University of Alabama.
  • In an apparent reference to the allegations of child sexual abuse against him, Moore said his wife "has closer contacts to kids than I do."
  • A man who served with Moore in Vietnam spoke, testifying to Moore's character. He mentioned a time another officer led them to a "private club" that turned out to be a brothel, in which some of the prostitutes were "very young," and Moore immediately said they should leave.

Weighing the benefits and risks of birth control pills

A birth control pill dispenser. Photo: Mike Derer / AP

A recent Danish study linked hormonal birth control to an increased risk of breast cancer, but the same contraceptives have also been shown to protect against certain less common cancers, such as endometrial and ovarian, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The study published last week raised alarm with its conclusion that users of hormonal birth control see about a 20% increased risk of developing breast cancer. But "it’s really problematic to look at one outcome in isolation. Hormonal contraception has a complex matrix of benefits and risks, and you need to look at the overall pattern," JoAnn E. Manson, a professor of women’s health at Harvard Medical School, told the Times.

The results: A British study that followed 46,000 women from 1968 to 2012 found birth control pill users had increased risks of breast and cervical cancers, but the overall cancer rates among users and non-users was equalized by the fact that users were less likely to develop other cancers.

“There is good data to show that five or more years of oral contraceptive use substantially reduces ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer risk, and may reduce colorectal cancer. And the protection persists for 10 or 20 years after cessation" of use, David J. Hunter, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Oxford told the Times.


Macron lures climate scientists to France for Trump's term with millions in grants

Under a program called 'Make Our Planet Great Again', France has offered 18 climate scientists — 13 of them U.S. based — millions of euros in grants to work in France for the rest of President Trump's term, according to the Guardian.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced the contest right after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord, and more than 5,000 people pursued the grants.

Why it matters: The program, with the branding driving home the point, makes clear that France views the U.S. under Trump as hostile ground for climate science.


Report: Trump furious Haley said his accusers "should be heard"

Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump was "infuriated" by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's remark Sunday that the women accusing him of sexual assault and harassment "should be heard," the AP reports.

Per the report, Trump has "grown increasingly angry in recent days that the accusations against him have resurfaced, telling associates that the charges are false and drawing parallels to the accusations facing Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore." White House advisers were "stunned" by Haley's statement, made on CBS' "Face the Nation," according to the AP.


House tax bill adds $1 trillion to deficit over 10 years, official analysis finds

The U.S. Capitol dome reflected in water. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

An analysis released Monday by the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation projects that the House tax bill would generate enough growth to produce $428 billion in revenue over ten years, per WSJ. That's less than one-third of the $1.4 trillion in tax revenue that would be lost over that time due to the cuts.

  • The bottom line: Estimates find that the bill would come nowhere near paying for itself, despite claims to the contrary from GOP leadership and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.
  • What's next: The House and Senate are reconciling their two versions of the bill.

Barkley vs. Bannon: Election eve in Alabama

Charles Barkley, Jones' headliner, and Steve Bannon, Moore's headliner. Photos: AP

It's Election eve in Alabama and Senate candidates Roy Moore and Doug Jones have brought in big-name guests to headline their final rallies. Former NBA player and current sports analyst, Charles Barkley, an Alabamian, is appearing with Jones. And Steve Bannon is returning to rally for Moore.

Where things stand: Polls out of Alabama are showing wildly different projections for Election Day, with one from Fox News showing Jones leading by 10 points and another from Emerson College showing Moore up by 9.


New Yorker cuts ties with Ryan Lizza over alleged sexual misconduct

Lizza. Screengrab via PBS on YouTube.

The New Yorker has cut ties with Ryan Lizza — a prominent political reporter at the magazine who is also a CNN analyst — over "improper sexual conduct," per Politico's Michael Calderone.

The statement: "The New Yorker recently learned that Ryan Lizza engaged in what we believe was improper sexual conduct. We have reviewed the matter and, as a result, have severed ties with Lizza. Due to a request for privacy, we are not commenting further."

Lizza responded, saying the New Yorker's decision was "a terrible mistake."

The law firm representing Lizza's accuser, Wigdor, LLP, put out the following statement, per the Daily Beast: "In no way did Mr. Lizza's misconduct constitute a 'respectful relationship' as he has now tried to characterize it. Our client reported Mr. Lizza's actions to ensure that he would be held accountable and in the hope that by coming forward she would help other potential victims."

Lizza's controversial interview with then-White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci led to Scaramucci's resignation.

Georgetown University, where Lizza is adjunct lecturer, said: "Georgetown recently learned of the New Yorker's actions. Classes have concluded for the fall semester at the University. Mr. Lizza will not be teaching any classes next semester."

CNN says Lizza will not appear on air while it looks into the allegations.


Alabama polls show wildly different results on election eve

Brynn Anderson/AP

One day before Alabama's closely watched Senate special election between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, two new polls were published — one from Fox News showing Jones leading by 10 points and another from Emerson showing Moore up by 9 .

Background: Since the Washington Post first reported about alleged sexual misconduct by Moore, polls in Alabama have been going back and fourth between both candidates. So who's really leading? The old addage applies: it all comes down to turnout.

What to keep in mind: As the Washington Post's Philip Bump points out, pollsters use various indicators such as historic results and enthusiasm shown by voters in prior polls, to figure out who will turn out on Election Day. There are also other factors that make it tough to determine who's going to turn out, he added:

  1. This is a highly contested statewide contest with few precedents on which to base estimates.
  2. It's happening under the most polarizing president in modern history.
  3. Moore was already an unusual and controversial candidate prior to the allegations.

Worth noting: There's also speculation that there's a pool of voters who won't admit to pollsters they're voting for a man who's facing allegations of sexual misconduct.


NYC terror suspect in custody after subway blast

The scene following an explosion near Times Square on Monday. Photo: Andres Kudacki / AP

27-year-old Akayed Ullah is in custody after he intentionally detonated a low-tech pipe bomb in a subway station near Times Square on Monday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the explosion was "an attempted terrorist attack."

The Department of Homeland Security said Ullah came to the U.S. in 2011 after presenting a passport displaying an F43 family immigrant visa. Ullah "is a Lawful Permanent Resident from Bangladesh who benefited from extended family chain migration," said DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton.

Details of attack:

  • The New York Police Department said the explosion occurred in an underground walkway that runs through the Port Authority bus terminal and Times Square along 42nd Street.
  • NYC Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill said during a press conference that Ullah had attached the "low-tech" pipe bomb to himself with a “combination of Velcro and zip ties." It's unclear whether Ullah was attempting a suicide bombing.
  • O'Neill also said Ullah acted alone and no other devices had been found.
  • Following the blast, Ullah was taken into custody and transported to Bellevue Hospital where he was treated for severe burns to his hands and abdomen. NYPD said three others suffered minor injuries.
  • No formal announcement has been made on what's next, but both federal and local law enforcement officials have indicated that Ullah will be prosecuted in federal court in Manhattan, reports the New York Times. The attack is also being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

What they're saying:

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: "This is New York. The reality is that we are a target for people who would like to make a statement against democracy, against freedom. We are not going to allow them to disrupt us."
  • Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen: The Trump administration is taking “appropriate action to protect our people and our country ... The administration continues to adopt significant security measures to keep terrorists from entering our country and from recruiting within our borders."
  • White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders: : "We know that the president's policy calls for end to chain migration .. had [Trump's] policy been in place, then the attacker would not have been allowed to come into the country."

White House says Trump accusers' "false claims" are politically motivated

Rachel Crooks, left, Jessica Leeds, center, and Samantha Holvey have all accused President Trump of sexual misconduct. Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

Three women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct spoke out again today in an NBC interview with Megyn Kelly and in a press conference hosted by Brave New Films, saying they hoped their allegations would be treated differently given the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The White House, which has disputed the claims before, issued this statement Monday in response:

"These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory. The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes, and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them."