1 year ago

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

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.

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.

8 hours ago

Trump gives closing pitch supporting ‘true conservative’ Tuberville in Tuesday’s runoff

President Donald Trump on Monday evening held a telephone town hall with former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville ahead of Alabama’s primary runoff Election Day on Tuesday.

Trump has endorsed Tuberville in the Republican U.S. Senate runoff against former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions was Trump’s first attorney general after being an early supporter of his 2016 campaign, however the president has strongly criticized Sessions since he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump has even called on Sessions to drop out of the Senate race, and Tuberville appeared on Air Force One with the president recently.

During the pre-runoff tele town hall, Trump continued to urge Alabamians to send a fresh choice to Washington, D.C., bashing Sessions in the process.

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“[T]omorrow is a big day,” Tuberville said at the beginning of the call.

Introducing the president, Tuberville commented, “I saw how he was fighting the D.C. swamp and the people all around him, and I made up my mind at that time that God had sent Donald Trump to us  — and he needed some help. So that’s the reason I’m doing this today, trying to support and represent the state of Alabama and go stand beside President Donald Trump.”

Trump began his remarks by noting, “It’s great to be speaking to the people of Alabama, a place I love, a place where we’ve had tremendous success. Where they like me and I like them — maybe love is a better word, frankly. But it’s been a great state.”

“And I love helping you,” Trump continued. “And one of the ways that we’re going to be helping you is recommending strongly Tommy Tuberville to be your next senator. He’s a tremendous guy.”

“Tommy is a very special guy. He’s a leader, he’s a real conservative — a true conservative,” the president said of Tuberville. “And he loves your state. And he loves this country. He will protect your Second Amendment like I’m doing.”

Trump said the former football coach will staunchly support securing the United States’ border with Mexico, including building “the wall.”

The president also discussed his own reelection campaign, as well as the state of his administration. Accomplishments he highlighted included rebuilding the military and reforming the Veterans Affairs system.

Trump said he views Tuberville as someone who will further help him in bettering the country’s treatment of its veterans.

‘I had no idea it could be as bad as it was’

The president then turned his attention to Sessions.

“I will tell you, I got to know Jeff Sessions very well,” Trump explained. “I made a mistake when I put him in as the attorney general. He had his chance, and he blew it. He recused himself right at the beginning — just about on day one — on a ridiculous scam, the Mueller scam, the ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ scam. And Jeff didn’t have the courage to stay there.”

“He immediately ran for the hills,” the president added of Sessions. “And he ruined a lot of lives, a lot of very innocent, good lives — people that went there all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they went there and they ended up getting caught up in a scam. It was a scam of Pelosi and Schiff and just a horrible thing — Schumer — a horrible, horrible thing.”

He then contrasted Tuberville and Sessions.

“Tommy Tuberville is going to do a job like you haven’t seen,” Trump stressed. “He’s going to take over, and he’s going to be representing you well. He’s going to have a call direct-line into my office. That I can tell you.”

“We had the Jeff Sessions thing, we gave it a shot. I had no idea it could be as bad as it was,” the president advised. “But he had no clue. And he just let it get away from him. It’s really a shame.”

Trump subsequently highlighted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 as a marquee accomplishment of his administration.

Speaking of these “big tax cuts,” Trump added, “Tommy’s going to help me, because we’re going for additional tax cuts.”

He also noted his administration’s track record of getting rid of burdensome government regulations that unnecessarily hamper economic growth. Trump touted America becoming “energy independent” during his presidency.

“Tommy is going to do great for Alabama. Tommy is going to be a real solid guy — he’ll never let you down,” Trump emphasized.

The president, in wrapping up his comments, once again encouraged Alabamians to go out and vote for Tuberville on Tuesday.

“He’ll be a tremendous senator,” Trump said.

‘It’s time to continue to send outsiders to Washington, D.C.’

The call was not advertised to the media, however Yellowhammer News was one of the many registered voters invited via text message to tune in.

Tuberville spoke at length after Trump left the call. The Senate candidate outlined — among other items — his support for law enforcement, conservative judges, getting God back in schools and combatting the rise of socialism.

“I want to fight,” Tuberville remarked. “I’m a fighter. I’m not a follower, I’m a leader. We need a leader from the state of Alabama that’s going to fight.”

He then lamented the drug epidemic plaguing many rural communities in the Yellowhammer State. Tuberville spoke about his support for rural economic development, including bringing jobs back from overseas into local communities.

“We’re losing population, we’re losing our kids — they’re moving out-of-state,” he advised. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

Tuberville subsequently commented, “China’s been a mess.”

He voiced his support for bringing manufacturing and other jobs back from China “to give our kids an opportunity to stay in this state, have good jobs, have families and enjoy life in the great state of Alabama.”

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Tuberville added. “I’m doing this for the right reasons. I believe in this country. I believe in this state. I believe in the people.”

“President Trump’s done a great job being President of the United States, being a businessperson” he concluded. “Now it’s time to continue to send outsiders to Washington, D.C., and help make those hard decisions. Let’s go out and vote tomorrow.”

Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. — 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

Masks are strongly recommended to be worn at polling sites but cannot legally be required. Local elections officials, supported by Secretary of State John Merrill’s office, have taken steps to sanitize voting locations while enabling social distancing as much as possible.

The winner of the GOP Senate runoff will go on to face U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in November.

Sessions, shortly after the Trump-Tuberville tele town hall, appeared on Fox News’ “The Story with Martha MacCallum.”

On Tuesday, there are also Republican runoffs for Congress in AL-01 and AL-02, as well as a statewide race for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, among other respective local matters.

You can find your polling location and sample ballot here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

Alabama-built rocket set to power NASA mission to Mars this summer

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has been attached to the top of the Alabama-built rocket that will send it toward the Red Planet in the coming weeks.

NASA and Yellowhammer State rocket-builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) recently updated the mission’s launch period, which is the range of days the rocket can launch to reach Mars. It now spans from July 30 to August 15.

Encased in the nose cone that will protect it during launch, the rover and the rest of the spacecraft – the aeroshell, cruise stage and descent stage – were affixed to a ULA Atlas V booster last week at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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According to a release from NASA, that process began when a 60-ton hoist on the roof of the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 lifted the nose cone, 129 feet to the top of the waiting rocket. There, engineers made the physical and electrical connections that will remain between booster and spacecraft until about 50 to 60 minutes after launch, when the two are pyrotechnically separated and Perseverance is on its way.

“I have seen my fair share of spacecraft being lifted onto rockets,” stated John McNamee, project manager for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But this one is special because there are so many people who contributed to this moment. To each one of them I want to say, we got here together, and we’ll make it to Mars the same way.”

The Atlas V was assembled at ULA’s world-class facility in Decatur, Alabama.

With the mating of spacecraft and rocket complete, the final testing of the two (separately and as one unit) will be underway.

No matter what day Perseverance lifts off during its launch period, it will be scheduled to land in Mars’ Jezero Crater exactly on February 18, 2021. This will come after an approximately seven-month journey spanning about 290 million miles (467 million kilometers).

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. It will also characterize the planet’s climate and geology, be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet — which will come through the historic Alabama-powered Artemis program.

NASA is inviting interested members of the public to get involved in the upcoming Mars Perseverance launch here.

RELATED: Aderholt sounds alarm over Fiscal Year 2021 NASA budget

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Altimmune COVID-19 vaccine candidate tested at UAB shows positive preclinical results

Altimmune, Inc., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, has announced positive results from the preclinical studies conducted in mice at the University of Alabama at Birmingham of its intranasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AdCOVID.

The studies — a collaboration between UAB and the Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Altimmune — showed strong serum neutralizing activity and potent mucosal IgA immunity in the respiratory tract. The induction of IgA antibody in the respiratory tract may be necessary to block both infection and transmission of the virus to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Based on these findings, AdCOVID is expected to be advanced to a Phase 1 safety and immunogenicity study in Q4 of this year. 

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AdCOVID is designed to express the receptor binding domain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, a key immune target that is essential for the virus to bind to cells and initiate infection. By focusing the immune response to this portion of the viral spike protein, AdCOVID elicited a strong systemic antibody response against the receptor binding domain in mice, achieving serum IgG antibody concentrations greater than 800 micrograms per milliliter just 14 days after administration of a single intranasal dose. In addition, AdCOVID stimulated serum viral neutralization titers of 1:320 by Day 28, two-times higher than the titer recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for investigational convalescent plasma as a treatment for severe COVID-19.

In a separate study with UAB, a single intranasal dose of AdCOVID stimulated a 29-fold induction of mucosal IgA in bronchoalveolar fluid of vaccinated mice. This level of IgA antibody stimulation is well above that associated with protection from disease in clinical studies of other mucosal vaccines. Frances Lund, Ph.D., lead UAB investigator for preclinical testing of the AdCOVID vaccine candidates, said, “The potent stimulation of mucosal IgA immunity in the respiratory tract may be crucial to effectively block infection and transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, given that the nasal cavity is a key point of entry and replication for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

“Stimulation of immunity at this level just 14 days after a single dose is impressive for any vaccine, and is particularly notable for a potential coronavirus vaccine,” said Lund, the Charles H. McCauley Professor and chair of the UAB Department of Microbiology. The Lund lab did the preclinical testing in collaboration with the labs of Troy Randall, Ph.D., professor of medicine in the UAB Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology; Kevin Harrod, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine; and three more UAB Department of Microbiology labs led by Rodney King, Ph.D., assistant professor, Todd Green, Ph.D., associate professor, and John Kearney, Ph.D., professor.

In other details from the collaborative preclinical work, Altimmune announced that the antibody responses were accompanied by a rapid recruitment of CD8+ T cells, CD4+ T cells, dendritic cells and natural killer cells in the respiratory tract. Increases in both germinal center and memory B cells, as well as T follicular helper cells, all associated in prior vaccine development research with the generation of long-lived antibody responses, were observed in regional lymph nodes and the spleen

Preclinical data for the antigen-specific T cell response are expected in coming weeks, along with additional immunogenicity readouts.

The Altimmune–UAB collaboration was announced March 30, and Lund made that work the highest priority for her group. “The goal,” she said in March, “is to get the data to Altimmune as rapidly as possible, so they will use the information gained from the preclinical study to design their clinical trial in people.

Intranasal dosing provides AdCOVID with the potential to be administered rapidly and without the need for needles, syringes or trained healthcare personnel. In addition, AdCOVID’s expected room temperature stability profile may allow for broad distribution of the vaccine without the need for expensive cold-chain logistics, such as refrigeration or freezing.

UAB has extensive experience in conducting clinical studies of vaccines and has participated in studies sponsored by the Vaccine Evaluation and Trial Unit, part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

At UAB, Randall holds the William J. Koopman Endowed Professorship in Rheumatology and Immunology, Harrod holds the Benjamin Monroe Carraway, M.D., Endowed Chair in Anesthesiology, and Kearney holds the Endowed Professorship in Immunology.

(Courtesy of UAB)

15 hours ago

Four officials endorse Carl during last days of AL-01 race

In the waning days of the campaign, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl has added the endorsements of four prominent elected officials in the southwest Alabama congressional district he seeks to represent.

State Reps. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island) and Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle) threw their support behind Carl last week, followed by Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood and Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack in the last few days.

Carl faces former State Senator Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) at the ballot box on Tuesday to determine who will be the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District that is anchored by Mobile and Baldwin Counties.

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Both Brown and Stringer represent districts in Mobile County; Brown in the south of the county and Stringer in the north.

Brown said in a release that Carl was “a solid conservative who will work to defend the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment.”

Stringer said he knows that Carl “is passionate about south Alabama, and that he will do an excellent job representing us and fighting for us in Washington.”

“I am honored to earn the endorsement of so many local, conservative leaders in our district. As a Commissioner, I have worked closely with Chip Brown and Shane Stringer to fight for south Alabama and make it a better place,” said Carl in a release announcing the endorsements.

Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack endorsed Carl on Saturday, saying “I know Jerry personally and have full confidence that he will take our values to Washington and represent us with integrity.”

Mack is a highly sought after endorsement for both statewide and local Republican officials.

Carl said in response to the endorsement, ” “I am humbled by the endorsement of Sheriff Hoss Mack. He is a rock-solid Sheriff and has earned the respect of everyone around him because of his commitment to law and order and our south Alabama values.”

Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood preceded Mack by one day in his endorsement of Carl.

“Jerry is a Christian conservative who will diligently and effectively serve the citizens of Coastal Alabama, including, the City of Daphne,” said Haygood in a statement released by Carl’s campaign.

Daphne has a population of around 27,000 and sits right across the bay from Mobile in Baldwin County.

“Dane has been a friend of mine for many years, and he has proven himself to be an effective leader for the City of Daphne. We have worked together on many projects,” commented Carl about receiving Haygoood’s endorsement.

The Republican primary runoff election is Tuesday, July 14.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

16 hours ago

AHSAA’s Savarese to lead National Federation of State High School Associations

Steve Savarese, executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA), will lead the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) starting next year.

A Monday release announced that Savarese was elected by the NFHS board of directors to the position of president-elect for the term spanning July 2, 2020 — July 2021. Savarese’s one-year term as president will begin in July, 2021.

Savarese became executive director of the AHSAA in July 2007, after serving as a teacher, coach, athletic director and administrator in the states of Kansas and Alabama for more than 40 years. He is the fourth full-time executive director in AHSAA history.

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Now in in his 14th year in that role, Savarese has emphasized health, safety and sportsmanship throughout his tenure. He developed – through the AHSAA Central Board – a revenue-sharing program that has returned more than $17 million to member schools since its implementation in 2010.

After moving to Alabama, Savarese subsequently served as head coach and athletic director of Birmingham Ensley (three years), Alexander City Benjamin Russell (12 years), Daphne (seven years) and McGill-Toolen (three years). He was even selected as an NFL High School Coach of the Year finalist in 1996-97.

In addition to his service on the NFHS board of directors, Savarese has served on numerous NFHS committees and is currently the chair of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

RELATED: Alabama High School Athletic Association members to see ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ streaming opportunities this year

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn