Conservatives outside GOP may control its political destiny

NY Times:
About once a month, a dozen or so of the country’s most influential Republicans meet in a bare-walled conference room in Washington to discuss how to make further gains in the Congressional elections next year and defeat President Obama.
They share polling and opposition research, preview their plans for advertising and contacting voters in swing states, and look for ways to coordinate spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 12 months, drawing on years of experience laboring for the party.
But almost none of them hold office or a job with the Republican Party itself. Instead, they represent conservative groups that channeled tens of millions of dollars into last year’s Congressional campaign. And as 2012 approaches, the groups — among them the Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads, the Republican Governors Association, the American Action Network and Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the billionaire Koch brothers — have gathered into a loosely organized political machine poised to rival, and in many ways supplant, the official Republican Party apparatus.
At a time when the Republican National Committee remains weighed down by debt, outside conservative groups, freed from contribution limits by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year, are playing an ever larger role and operating in an increasingly coordinated fashion. In the coming months, the conservative groups will consult among themselves as they open pre-election advertising barrages against Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats.
They have begun conversations about how to divide up the swing states where each group is likely to focus its energies, with some like Americans for Prosperity expecting to shift chiefly to Senate races and the White House. Others, like the new Congressional Leadership Fund, will look to preserve the Republican hold on the House.
Groups that have made defeating Mr. Obama their top priority expect to invest heavily in some of the new swing states where Mr. Obama made inroads in 2008, like Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Other groups, operating in concert, will target Democratic senators they believe are ripe for unseating, like Bill Nelson of Florida, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
At a time when the Republican presidential primary race has featured increasingly tough stances against illegal immigration, the independent groups have begun an aggressive program of outreach to Hispanics, hoping to offset Democratic gains among a critical voting bloc.
And they are planning to coordinate offensives in states like North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where money and organizing could pay dividends simultaneously in the presidential, Congressional and local legislative races.
They have recruited some of the Republican Party’s best-known officials, like Speaker John A. Boehner and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, to help raise money. And in a shift from 2010, when the groups focused largely on television advertising, they plan to put far more money into voter contact, social media and grass-roots outreach, hoping to buttress the party’s own get-out-the-vote work.
... 
Democrat outside groups are finding that Obama is sucking up most of the cash on their side and they are not doing nearly as well as the GOP outside groups.  That is why the comparison of fund raising by the traditional campaign organizations has become misleading.   I expect Democrat candidates are going to see much more direct advertisement against them than they have in the past.  This will be especially true of Obama who has a record that is easy to be critical of.

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