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Former Romney, Bush aide to launch group that tracks Democrats for gaffes

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Maine Gov. Paul LePage delivers his State of the State address on Feb. 5, 2013.
By Rachel Weiner, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney’s former campaign manager is working with two Republican National Committee staff members to form America Rising, a conservative opposition research group, organizers said Thursday.

The group will track Democrats who might run for president in 2016, with the goal of compiling research that will define the eventual candidates.

Matt Rhoades, who ran Romney’s 2012 campaign and served as George W. Bush’s research director in 2004, is leading the effort. He will be joined by RNC research director Joe Pounder and spokesman Tim Miller.

In its 98-page report on the status of the Republican Party, the RNC called for “an outside group . . . that focuses solely on research of Democrats,” one that will “establish a private archive and public website that does nothing but post inappropriate Democrat utterances and act as a clearinghouse for information.”

Democrats have a similar group, called American Bridge 21st Century. Founded by David Brock, the former conservative behind the liberal media watchdog Media Matters, American Bridge tracked Republican candidates and scoured their public appearances for embarrassing quotes.

The group spotted and circulated Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” and Rep. Steve King’s comparison of immigrants to dogs. The group also sent mail to voters highlighting a statement Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana made about rape and pregnancy.

The Maine Democratic Party has assigned a tracker to Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an action that outraged the governor and spurred him to refuse to meet with Democratic legislative leaders after Democrats gained majorities in the Maine House and Senate in 2012. LePage joked about the tracker during a media event Thursday, urging him to register his vehicle in Maine to allow the state to collect excise tax and registration fees.

Earlier this year, the Maine Republican Party launched its own research site on Tumblr.

“We plan to start this enterprise because so many Republicans seem to agree that there is a need on our side of the aisle for an entity that is focused on solely holding Democrats accountable for their actions and records using research, candidate tracking, rapid response and digital tools,” Rhoades said in a statement.

On top of its research and communications effort, the group plans to test different distribution methods for maximum impact. Campaigns will include social media, digital advertising and PR aimed at earned media coverage. The group does not plan to air television ads.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Republicans would want to replicate this,” American Bridge President Rodell Mollineau said, warning that “it’s not as easy as it looks.”

America Rising will be divided into a super PAC, which will be required to disclose donors, and a limited liability company with clients. The latter will be legally able to work with campaigns and committees.

American Bridge is divided into a super PAC, which discloses its donors, and a nonprofit foundation, which does not.

RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said the party is “excited about the efforts of groups like America Rising that will further strengthen the future of the Republican Party.” The RNC is also expanding its research operation going into the 2014 elections.

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