The Fine Print
With one of the biggest Republican gatherings of the year in full swing at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a group of Democratic operatives in Washington is fighting back — waging a full-out public relations war to counter CPAC.
“We are kind of the central apparatus for tracking and research, really, on the progressive side. And so at an event like CPAC, we put our resources to work,” said American Bridge PAC president Brad Woodhouse, speaking to “The Fine Print” during a rare tour of the Democratic group’s so-called war room.
The room is filled with rows of desks equipped with double-monitor computer screens, which a group of about 40 Democratic operatives are using to monitor and fact-check speeches at CPAC as they happen, issue rapid responses, and monitor the media and social networking sites.
“Over here, we have people who are monitoring. Today they’re monitoring CPAC,” Woodhouse said, as he pointed to people working around the room. “They’re monitoring tweets, they’re monitoring news coverage [and] they’re looking at transcripts.”
American Bridge also has “trackers,” who are essentially Democratic spies on the ground at CPAC, recording events and monitoring the events both on and off the official stage of the conference.
“We’re literally in filming Ted Cruz just like ABC is,” Woodhouse said. “We’re also out in the hallways capturing conversations and that kind of thing.”
It’s all part of an effort to differentiate the Democratic message from their Republican opponents, Woodhouse added. When asked which Republican speakers at the conference the war room soldiers most like to watch, he pointed to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as one of their favorites.
“He’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Woodhouse said of Paul. “His attacks on Hillary Clinton because of what Bill Clinton did 20 years ago … is going to really hurt them in the long run. So one thing, it’s nice to watch Rand Paul because it’s just so outlandish.”
In addition to rapid-response style reactions to the ongoing events at CPAC, Woodhouse said an equally important long-term strategy of his group is to catch moments — large and small — that might otherwise be missed and can help propel a campaign against a Republican candidate.
“We’re either there with a tracker filming it, just like the media … and we have media monitors that are watching the local coverage,” Woodhouse said. “We’re tracking whatever Republicans are saying, wherever they’re saying it.”
American Bridge PAC looks a lot like a permanent campaign — a characterization that Woodhouse didn’t reject but, instead, explained as necessary.
“One of the key things in campaigns is knowing what your opponent says, what they do, what they believe, and also having video of them saying and doing those things,” Woodhouse said. “So we look at this as real-time rapid response, but also as a place that curates.”
Of course, Republicans have war rooms of their own and use strategies similar to American Bridge PAC. But Woodhouse pointed to such groups more as evidence of American Bridge’s success rather than threats.
“Imitation is the best form of flattery,” Woodhouse said. “After the 2012 election … they saw what this organization did to highlight the Akin comments and Mourdock, and how much information we fed to the super PACs who had ads on Bain [Capital], for example. … So America Rising started on the Republican side after the election. They modeled themselves after us and so, you know, more power to them.”
For more of the interview with Woodhouse, including how American Bridge PAC decides whether to reveal new dirt on a Republican target or to hold it in a vault for later use, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”
ABC News’ Chris Good, Michael Conte, Tom Thornton, Hank Brown, and Vicki Vennell contributed to this episode.