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Parties spend heavily to help states hire staff

Wednesday - 3/19/2014, 3:33pm  ET

FILE - In this March 14, 2014, file photo, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus gestures while speaking before the California Republican Party 2014 Spring Convention in Burlingame, Calif. Republicans are trying to convert hard-won gains in statehouses to successes in this November’s congressional elections and the 2016 race for the White House, according to a review of their campaign finance reports. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

PHILIP ELLIOTT
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans are hiring operatives from California to Maine and building databases that track voters' habits, preferences and interests.

Democrats are spending just as heavily to keep their political machinery humming going into November's elections, which will determine House and Senate control, and ahead of the 2016 presidential contest, according to a review of campaign finance reports.

An Associated Press analysis of the parties' spending since the 2012 presidential campaign suggests Republicans are trying to copy the Democrats' playbook: build strong political operations in crucial states and collect as much voter data as possible.

"We have to make sure that we put together a process and an operation that gives our (presidential) nominee the best possible platform to be successful," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Tuesday.

"The RNC had become basically a U-Haul trailer of cash that gets hooked up to a nominee for a short period of time and then the national party went away for three years," he said. That approach, Priebus said, has left the GOP out of the White House for two terms.

Cash is starting to be delivered sooner, according to more than 80,000 pages of campaign finance reports that the RNC and Democratic National Committee have filed with the Federal Election Commission since January 2013.

Two years before they choose their next White House nominees, each party is sending millions of dollars to state committees.

Republicans are skipping over liberal strongholds such as Maryland and Vermont, as well as solidly conservative Idaho. Democrats are shipping money to each state affiliate, even the most conservative ones.

Much of the $6 million the RNC has sent to state parties has gone to Ohio, Florida and Michigan, where the GOP has had local success but failed in recent presidential contests.

Almost 70 percent of RNC money has been sent to states where Republicans hold the governor's office and President Barack Obama won re-election.

Democrats are sending money to must-win states, but also to high-stakes statewide Senate races in Georgia, Kentucky and Arkansas. In total, Democrats have spent almost $8 million to keep their political machine running and supporters engaged.

More than $5 million of that has gone to states where Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Of that, $3.6 million has gone to states with a Republican governor.

The results: 160 employees on state parties' payrolls through the RNC money-moving program and 60 Democratic operatives through theirs. Those are on top of the payrolls the state parties themselves fund.

At the same time, the DNC, which is carrying almost $16 million in red ink, has spent about $2 million to keep its sophisticated databases up to date in the states.

The RNC has its own data and technology project in the works and is spending millions to catch up to Democrats' systems.

RNC aides said the party was spending about $15 million to collect data and build digital tools to use it.

Priebus this week said that the system so far has about 300 pieces of information about each voter.

"I'm not reviewing your emails. But I can find out if you've taken out a hunting license," Priebus said.

Republicans say they are optimistic the approach might lead to parity in campaign organizations.

"Traditionally, the party would drop a bunch of resources in during August of an election year and drop people in from out of the state in a one-size-fit-all approach," said Ryan Call, the chairman of the Colorado Republican Committee. "That doesn't work."

His state party has received almost $96,000 since the last presidential election, and more is on the way.

Call has hired some on-the-ground organizers and an operative to coordinate the party's outreach to Asian voters.

In coming weeks, Call plans to use RNC money to hire 11 more field workers, as well as an aide to coordinate outreach to Hispanic voters and two more hands to execute that work. In total, the state GOP will have 20 RNC-paid aides on the ground.

Colorado Democrats have picked up $120,000 from the party to help with payroll and $40,000 to update their records on each voter's habits, preferences and location.

"For the state party and the Democratic candidates, the voter file is the most valuable tool people have in their boxes," said Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio. "It's a fairly expensive project."

Only about $1 of every $10 the national committees spend goes right back to the states as cash. Accounting systems don't capture all of the spending on consultants, pollsters and data consultants that largely fall on the payrolls in Washington but that state parties lean on.

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