The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 month ago

Opposition research: When is the right time for a campaign to attack their opponents?

(Adobe Stock)

This time of year before an upcoming spring primary election, I get asked a lot, “When are we going to see some opposition research dropped from campaigns?”

Long-term strategy during a political campaign can be a fragile thing knowing when to start and complete certain tasks. It’s an easy decision to have a campaign web site early on. It’s easy to decide that raising money early on is crucial to getting the campaign off on a solid foundation. Hiring staff and consultants is done early and adding more throughout the campaign is an easy call to make. When to open a campaign office and getting volunteers is also an easy decision to make. However, timing is everything, especially when it comes to knowing when to drop a piece of opposition research on an opponent. If a campaign uses what they have too early and in the wrong way, they run the risk of it leaving the voters’ minds in advance of Election Day. If a campaign waits too long, voters can turn off any information because towards the end of a long campaign season, voters get tired of all the ads and revolt against any and all campaign happenings.

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As a veteran opposition research consultant, I have been involved in well over 100 political campaigns over a span of 28 years, and have seen about all there is to see regarding opposition research and there is no concrete answer as to when a campaign should drop a piece of oppo on an opponent. Every campaign is different and having people on the team that know from experience when oppo should be dropped helps, but still isn’t a guaranteed way to know when to release the information.

These are some of the factors that go into the decision of when to release opposition research:

  1. If your campaign is hanging on by a thread: If your candidate has damaging opposition research on any other candidate who is even or above them in the polls, releasing the information can turn a campaign around and give it life due to the attention they will get once the oppo is released to the public. Holding information “for later” many times is never used because your candidate doesn’t make it until Election Day. If you have it, use it.
  2. If you are being attacked by an opponent: The old saying, “Fight fire with fire,” applies here. It could be deemed school-yard antics, but if your candidate is getting ravaged by another campaign, one way to stop it or at least slow it down is to release your own opposition research on the candidate that is attacking you. Many think that this sort of behavior turns off voters, but in reality, it works.
  3. To raise money: Donors love to see a candidate who will fight and will reward them accordingly if they feel that they have something to say and can win. Releasing opposition research on opponents can make some donors think twice about who they will support especially if what you have on an opponent is quite damaging to their campaign. Remember that an overwhelming majority of possible donors don’t have access to the information that you do, so releasing it to the public makes sense in a financial standpoint.
  4. To bake it in: If your campaign has incredible opposition research especially on the perceived front-runner, that in your opinion can dramatically affect the outcome of the race, releasing it early in the campaign season and hammering it daily can serve to “bake it in,” the voters’ minds.
  5. To drive the last nail in a coffin of an opponent: If one of your main opponents’ campaign is losing steam, some consultants like to do all they can to knock them out of the race by piling on with opposition research. Other consultants like to stay out of it and allow the opponent to slowly descend in the polls and drop out when the money dries up. I have found that both are credible strategies, however, if you want to use a boxing analogy, when you have an opponent on the ropes, you go for the knock-out and don’t back off in order to give him time to catch his second breath.
  6. Being the last word: For years, consultants have believed that all opposition research should be released a few days before Election Day. Their thought process was that if they waited that deep into the campaign season to release information, their opponent wouldn’t have time to adequately answer the attacks. That thinking has become antiquated due to the 24-hour news cycle that we currently live. Candidates have the ability now to answer attacks via a number of social media platforms, by talk radio appearances, and doing their own TV ads that answer the attacks. Technology and social media has changed the world and certainly has had a dramatic effect on political campaigns as well.

One thing is for sure, opposition research is always going to be used as a strategy and campaigns who know how to gather it and when and how to use it correctly can mean the difference between winning and losing a campaign.

Brad Presnall is a veteran Alabama-based political opposition and vulnerability research consultant. He can be contacted at bpresnall@hotmail.com.

4 months ago

In the shadows: Defining the world of opposition research and why it wins races

(Flaticon, YHN)

This is my 28th year in politics, and I have seen firsthand that with every election cycle, opposition research becomes a more valuable tool used in political campaigns.

Many people had never heard of “Oppo” or were even aware that campaigns aggressively looked for information on their opponents until the Trump Dossier complied by Fusion GPS was released. The Trump Dossier was not a credible opposition research project whether you support Trump or not, simply because in true opposition research projects, everything listed in the report must have documentation.

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The two major political parties in Alabama have gotten further apart in their policies, however, during their respective party primary elections, the candidates of both parties are very closely aligned with each other. If there are eight Republican candidates vying for the same office and you read each of their policy proposals without their picture or name attached, you would find it almost impossible to distinguish between each of them. So how do candidates separate themselves from their opponents in their own party when they basically agree on many issues? They have oppo done.

Opposition research is a process of learning all you can about your political opponent by using complex research skills and tactics. This goes way beyond a basic Google search. Knowing all you can about their background, associations, their record if they have held office before, and what they have said in the past, are some of the areas covered. Once the mountain of information has been gathered over weeks and many times months of searching on site, having the experience to know what can and can’t be used, how to write it into an easy-to-read report and how to use the information effectively are the keys to success.

One area that can be difficult for a candidate and their campaign to combat successfully is to defend themselves against attacks from the opposition. To defend yourself sounds easy in theory, but when it is coming at you from many angles at once; it can bring any campaign to their knees literally overnight. However, there is a part of opposition research that effectively lowers the chances that these attacks can damage a campaign. It’s called vulnerability research.

Vulnerability research allows an opposition research consultant to find where their own candidate would be vulnerable to attacks from the opponent by doing research on them. It is not smart for a candidate to depend on their own memory regarding their history as answering a charge even slightly different than they have in the past can bring accusations of lying from the opponent. Vulnerability research shows the candidate what they said and did in the past in their public and private life, so this problem can be avoided many times. Responding to political attacks must be done swiftly and strongly within a few hours or the attack gets baked in whether it is true or not. Vulnerability research needs to be done as early as possible in the campaign. This helps to neuter attacks by bringing possible problems up many times months in advance so the campaign can write replies to all possible attacks. This allows them to be able to answer when any attack comes immediately with a clear, concise, and consistent response.

Opposition research didn’t become defined as a highly skilled practice that was routinely done until after Republican political consultant Lee Atwater of South Carolina perfected the craft in modern-day politics in 1980. Atwater’s opposition research successes took him from South Carolina all the way to the Reagan White House. However, critics would claim that Atwater put the “dirt” in politics due to his aggressive opposition research tactics. Atwater was a brilliant consultant who believed that the public had a right to know about the candidates’ backgrounds, and yes, their skeletons.

Political campaigns have general consultants, campaign managers, media consultants, social media directors, field directors, volunteer organizers, fundraiser and these are all high profile positions where they interact with the public and media outlets during the course of a long campaign to the point of being on a first-name basis. The one person on a campaign who stays in the shadows is the opposition researcher. Few campaigns will admit that they do oppo because of the negative stigma of “digging for dirt,” but all of the winning ones hire an opposition researcher.

An opposition researcher has to have a certain mindset in order to be successful. One must enjoy working alone, be extremely detail orientated, have excellent research skills, and be driven to find the truth. You have to check your ego at the door because you are never acknowledged for your work in the public arena. It is like you don’t exist. You must be able to travel as being on the road three-hundred days a year is not uncommon. This isn’t a political career where you sit at a desk and take phone calls. You also must be able to take care of yourself physically as there are times where you will come in contact with supporters or employees of the opposition who don’t like the fact that you are looking into their candidate. They will verbally try to intimidate and physically threaten you. The mentality that the opposition researcher has to have is that what you find can change the course of history because one small bit of information many times can be the difference between a candidate winning or losing.

One example I will mention was for a large statewide Alabama campaign many years ago that had two very strong candidates in their party’s primary headed for a possible runoff. Both candidates were well funded, well liked within the party structure, had very low negative polling numbers and both were extremely qualified for the job. About two months out from the voters heading to the polls, both of these candidates were polling in the low 40s and in every imaginable head-to-head match up, they basically were even. One campaign was looking for an edge and I got the call. At that time no-bid contracts were a hot topic and both candidates had held office before and were campaigning aggressively against no-bid contracts. During my work, I found that our opponent previously had taken part in no-bid contracts on the giving as well as the receiving end. That one piece of oppo showed hypocrisy on his part and our campaign released the information to the public. In a 10-day stretch after the information was released, the polling went from roughly 41%-41% to 50% to 30%. We ended up easily winning the election without a runoff due to one piece of research.

Opposition and vulnerability research projects are effective with any size campaign. The first project I ever did was for a small town mayor in north Alabama which evolved into over one hundred political races to campaigns for president of the United States. I served as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s director of Research and Rapid Response and ran the War Room on both of his presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016, so there isn’t a campaign too big or small that can’t benefit from oppo.

The effect and successes of opposition and vulnerability research projects have spread from political campaigns to other areas. PACs, associations, 501c(3) groups, state governments and business organizations have opposition researchers complete projects because all of them at some point have a need for personalized research in a political or even a non-political setting.

One thing that all campaigns regardless of their size or party affiliation will agree upon is that information is empowering and is the catalyst for success.

Brad Presnall is a veteran Alabama-based political opposition and vulnerability research consultant. He can be contacted at bpresnall@hotmail.com.