The vast right-wing conspiracy Hillary Rodham Clinton once cited in 1998 works from cluttered offices on Capitol Hill, led by a man who was in high school when she first made the charge.
Raj Shah runs the Republican National Committee’s opposition research arm, a beehive of two dozen tech-savvy idealists who have already spent two years searching through decades of government documents, tax filings, TV footage and news archives. One of their colleagues in Arkansas turns up every day in the Clinton presidential library to probe the Clintons’ accumulated past. More than 330 Freedom of Information Act requests have netted 11,000 pages of records, and counting. The R.N.C. has also retained Mark Zaid, an attorney who also is representing the Gawker website in suing the State Department over records from Mrs. Clinton’s time as secretary of state.
Today, presidential candidates start campaigning two years before the first primary vote is cast. That gives researchers a head start in finding flip-flops, fibs and perhaps most damaging of all, moments when politicians are caught being themselves.
Both political parties conduct opposition research — for proof of the Democrats’ prowess, there’s the “macaca moment” in 2006 that torpedoed the re-election of Senator George Allen in Virginia. In this political cycle Republican investigators have been given a rare gift: a clear front-runner with a long and public history.