WASHINGTON - The Republican National Committee is largely getting out of the advertising business and instead will defer to super PACs and campaign committees to have a greater role during this year's midterm election, senior GOP officials said Tuesday.
The RNC's priority this year will be on rebuilding its voting databases and it will use 2014 as a test run with the aim of fixing glitches before 2016's presidential contest. They are essentially starting from scratch after the previous databases proved unreliable, outdated and outpaced by Democrats.
During past years, the central party has often used television ads to boost the GOP brand and its candidates, especially its presidential contenders. The RNC would send millions of dollars to allies at the National Republican Senatorial Campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Not this year, party officials said. One noted the outside groups are going to run a lot of television ads.
Several party officials talked about the shift on the condition of anonymity to talk about internal strategy decisions they were not authorized to discuss by name. The GOP has lost back-to-back presidential elections.
Even as senior RNC officials were meeting with reporters, the conservative Americans for Prosperity announced almost $2 million in ads against Democratic candidates in Iowa and Michigan and in favor of a Republican contender in Montana. The group, supported by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, criticizes President Barack Obama's national health care law, likely a driving factor from now until November's elections.
The refocused mission of the RNC was not a surprise to those working on campaign committees. Without repaired databases, candidates would be at a disadvantage as they search for enough voters to win.
"Republicans are positioned to win the majority in the Senate; we have strong candidates, have expanded the map into purple and blue states, and the national political environment is strongly in our favor," said Brad Dayspring, the communications director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Broken promises about Obamacare and jobs have made it nearly impossible for voters to believe Democrats on the ballot in 2014, and there will be no shortage of television and digital advertising making that that case."
Thirty-five Senate seats are up this year and Democrats will be defending 21 of them. The current balance of power in the Senate is 45 Republicans, 53 Democrats and two independents who often vote with the Democrats. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to wrest the Senate from Democrats' control.
Those contests will be a chance for the RNC to test its databases that track each voter and fine-tine its once-vaunted get-out-the-vote programs. In past years, that program was considered superior, but Democrats have surpassed them with data and technology to use it.
The full 168-member RNC is set to meet next week here in Washington to approve plans for 2014's midterm elections. The plan is for the central party to do the behind-the-scenes, labor-intensive training for campaign operatives and testing the nuts-and-bolts of party infrastructure.
The RNC also continue its presence in the states and, in many cases, will directly run the get-out-the-vote operations for candidates and coordinate among campaigns with Washington-picked operatives.
Some 78 percent of the staff in the RNC's political department works outside of the party headquarters. The budget for RNC staff, phones and direct mail in the state offices is to be higher than ever, one official said. But the aides in those offices are to coordinate with Washington, giving the RNC greater control over what happens in the field.
During the last midterm elections in 2010, the RNC sent $13 million directly to state parties. During the midterms before that, the RNC sent almost $57 million to state parties, according to a 2010 memo.