The 2014 cycle contained the emergence of a more sophisticated Republican operation for tracking Democratic candidates and scrubbing their public and personal lives for damaging information. During the 2012 campaign, Republican super PACs and outside groups were largely limited to their own in-house research, news reports and footage lifted from television broadcasts or candidates’ own video.
This time, Republicans set up a new research hub called America Rising. Created as a limited liability corporation, it could sell footage and research to anyone willing to pay. Republican candidates and super PACs, which otherwise might not coordinate with each other, could buy the same research and tracking footage, allowing their advertising to be more cohesive.
The business employed a legion of trackers to follow Democratic candidates, logging close to a half-million miles of travel and recording more than 3,000 campaign events. The group scored an early hit in Iowa, when it obtained footage of Representative Bruce Braley, the Democrats’ anointed Senate contender, disparaging Charles E. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as “a farmer from Iowa, who never went to law school.”
The footage was provided to Iowa newspapers in March, putting Mr. Braley on the defensive at time when Republicans had not yet settled on a candidate. Within two days, the video was picked up by a new Republican political nonprofit, Priorities for Iowa, and aired in statewide ads. Ultimately, footage from America Rising was used in more than a hundred Republican ads during the 2014 cycle, according to a spokesman.At Time, Alex Altman and Zeke Miller offer more detail on America Rising:
Launched by three top party operatives after 2012, the group had a mandate to erase the opposition research edge Democrats enjoyed in past cycles. The investment paid dividends early on a cold, dark March morning. Tim Miller, the group’s executive director, was reviewing the latest clips compiled by his team of twenty-something research junkies when he came across something so juicy it might just alter the balance of the Senate. “Holy s—!” he shouted. It was a video of Braley, standing before a half-dozen bottles of liquor at a Texas fundraiser, disparaging Sen. Chuck Grassley as a farmer who “never went to law school.”
Miller’s group leaked the video to an Iowa television reporter, hoping to assure at least a single airplay on local television, which would allow it to be aired in future ads. Instead it spread like wildfire. The clip cast Braley as out of touch with his agricultural state and proved a body blow to Braley’s Iowa hopes. In the final Des Moines Register poll, 39 percent of Braley’s own supporters said his comments about Grassley were a crucial mistake.