They're as young as they are ruthless and they're the warriors who wage Washington's political battles. Opposition researchers have been around since the dawn of politics but today they're younger, more tech savvy and arguably more bloodthirsty. Today, ABC News and Roll Call each gained exclusive access to the Republican and Democratic war rooms, respectively. What they found was a sweatshop of 20-somethings spending all day looking for the next gaffe, non-gaffe, indiscretion, or closeted skeleton. Welcome to the dirty world of politics:
Who they are In Jake Tapper's tour inside the Republican National Committee's war room, you can see the fresh-faced youths in their 20s, trying to carve out a space for themselves in this competitive field. In Roll Call's tour of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's war room, you find the same age demographic of "mostly 20-somethings."
What they're looking for RNC chairman Reince Priebus says sifting through President Obama's speeches and looking for empty promises is step number one. "We've got a lot of speeches and a lot of material on him and we have to hold him accountable to the promises he made to the American people," Priebus tells Tapper. In terms of gaffe-watching, they'd like to find another Hilary Rosen moment to use against Democrats. For the Democrats' operation, Roll Call gets a lot of research details. "Do the candidates own any small businesses that accepted federal funds they voted against?" asks reporter Shira Toeplitz. "Start digging through the secretary of state’s archives. Do they have more than a few mortgages on their underwater home? A case for fiscal irresponsibility with the right documentation. Runs a construction business? Often there are lawsuits to be found." In one case, a researcher named Diana Asti found a diamond in the rough: A secret marriage. “My head just went in all different directions, like maybe they’ve divorced and he hasn’t paid alimony, or maybe he has a child and he hasn’t paid child support,” said the 23-year-old Democrat. "It was a very exciting moment.”
Weapons of choice While the Internet is key, old school shoe-leather work is still indispensable. The DCC uses a mix of "scouring news clips and YouTube videos and traveling across the country to comb through public records, all in hopes of finding a good hit," reports Roll Call. "Discoveries go into hundred-page research books on their targets that are used as bait to recruit candidates, leaked to reporters or cited in campaign advertisements and mail pieces." For the GOP, RNC communications director Sean Spicer stressed technology tools. "We - 24/7 - monitor print news, online news, TV, radio, Twitter, Facebook," he said. "We try to capture everything that's going on in real time so that we know what's happening ... and we're able to respond within seconds."
Work hours At the DCCC, hit squads search for eight weeks at a time and then break. The team of 20-somethings at the RNC, meanwhile are running a 24/hour operation. According to officials speaking to Tapper, they used to allow the researchers a break at 3 a.m. but now they don't stop scanning videos and news clips for anything. "Oh my God it looks like North Korea in here," Tapper remarked.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.