The conventional wisdom after the 2012 presidential election held that Mitt Romney faltered, in part, because President Barack Obama successfully defined him early in the contest and established a narrative about Romney that he was never able to recover from.
Whether you buy that storyline or not, Republicans don’t want to risk a repeat during the congressional midterm contests. With nine months before voters cast ballots across the country, the National Republican Senatorial Committee wants to tell the personal story of its own candidates before Democrats beat them to the punch. It wants to define Republican candidates first.
To accomplish this, the NRSC sent in-house filmmaker Dain Valverde on the road with a camera to shoot a series of mini “documentaries” about six GOP U.S. Senate candidates. The final product, which Yahoo News viewed at NRSC headquarters in Washington, is a well-produced piece of Republican agitprop designed to showcase the candidates at their best. It’s also a novel approach to presenting candidates for the Senate — one that’s usually reserved for well-funded presidential outfits with the resources to make hagiographic biographies about the politician seeking higher office.
“I think you become defined and people start to look at you through a prism,” said NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring, who pointed to Romney’s failure to define himself as a huge missed opportunity two years ago. “It’s important to get positive information in there.”
The videos consist of seven-minute life story segments, and each of these candidates now has one: Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Terri Lynn Land of Michigan, Steve Daines of Montana, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. All attended the NRSC candidate-training program and sought assistance from the group.
The videos could ruffle feathers as some of the candidates still have GOP primary challengers, and the NRSC traditionally doesn’t make endorsements before primary elections have picked the winner.
Dayspring asks that competitors not look at it that way. “None of this should be seen as an endorsement of any candidate,” Dayspring said, adding that the video program was open to any candidate who attended the NRSC’s training.
With the exception of Capito’s video, in which she criticizes the Obama administration’s regulations on the coal industry, the other videos mostly leave politics at the door. The purpose of the series, Valverde said, was to introduce voters and GOP activists to the personal stories of each candidate, not produce a policy video. (There’ll be plenty of time for that later.)
That goal is evident in the framing of each story: Cotton’s film depicts him as just “a tall lanky kid with a flattop” and a “local boy through and through” who “grew up raising cattle” in “a small town where everyone’s family.” Rounds is just a regular guy who goes “shopping for himself” at Wal-Mart. Lands is a woman who is “never one to back down from anything.” Daines “brought Montana to the future without forgetting about his past” and loves “the wilderness.” Cassidy is a doctor who “never forgets a face.” And Capito is “a proud West Virginian who never forgot where she came from.”
These are the candidates as the GOP wants you to see them, and the presentation is unsurprisingly one-dimensional. But it’s an example of how party committees are leveraging their in-house resources and the delivery system the social web provides to portray their congressional hopefuls without the media. And in this instance, the NRSC went (almost) full positive.
“The media quite frankly get so much of their information through us saying Democrats suck and the DSCC saying we suck and this candidate’s bad and that candidate’s bad. We think we have some really good candidates. We think they have great stories to tell. We think they reflect their states,” Dayspring said.
The NRSC doesn’t have big plans to buy television airtime for the videos at this point. Instead, they intend to show them to activists in each state and are encouraging supporters to host watch parties they hope will motivate volunteers.
“What we don’t want to have happen is at the end of the election people hear a story about one of these candidates and say, 'Man, if I’d known he was such a nice guy,'” said NRSC Deputy Executive Director Matt Lira. “We really want that human side to come through.”