Republican goal: ‘Tarnish’ the brand of Democratic presidential hopefuls early

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
Yahoo News

Hillary Clinton won’t be on the ballot in 2014, but Republicans are wasting no time in laying the groundwork for a prolonged attack on her and other prominent Democrats with presidential ambitions.

With nearly three years before Election Day 2016, the Republican National Committee is investing in a campaign to ensure that the reputation of high-profile Democrats are “tarnished,” a party official bluntly told reporters during a briefing in the group’s Capitol Hill headquarters on Wednesday. Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden will hold the primary focus, but other potential presidential hopefuls such as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper won’t escape their radar.

“Tearing down those brands is important to us,” the RNC official said.

To accomplish this, the RNC is building opposition research files on each potential candidate and making preparations to bracket their travel with GOP talking points by dispatching its nationwide network of 14,000 Republican surrogates.

The RNC’s long-term plan is part of a broader effort among Republicans to sustain a campaign apparatus that carries on seamlessly between election years, something the party has struggled with in recent years. After losing presidential races in 2008 and 2012 and suffering at the polls particularly with minority voters, the RNC has embarked on a multimillion-dollar effort to sustain what RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has called a “permanent campaign.”

Republicans aren’t alone in gearing up for the next presidential election. The Democratic National Committee also has a similar plan for 2016. For months, the DNC has kept a watchful eye on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential Republican presidential hopeful. Long before New Jersey officials revealed emails proving that top aides to Christie were involved in a politically motivated lane closure on the George Washington Bridge last year, DNC operatives worked aggressively to promote the story. (Their instincts were vindicated earlier this month with the release of the new documents showing that Christie’s staff was involved with the closure.)

The parties aren’t ignoring 2014, of course, and neither is downplaying the importance of the midterm elections. They know it will serve as a critical benchmark for the future and a test of whether their tactics are working. But 2016 still looms heavily in the background.

“Obviously we want to be successful in 2016,” another RNC official said during the briefing on Wednesday. "You couldn’t just ignore 2014 and suddenly have all the answers in 2016. ... Our primary focus right now is winning in 2014.”