Harold Ickes, an advisor to Sen. Hillary Clinton, is building a for-profit consulting firm focused on taking away the Republican advantage in data mining, the Washington Post reports. Ickes' new company, Data Warehouse, is causing consternation in Democratic circles, under the belief that creating voter databases should be the DNC's job.
Ickes and others involved in the effort acknowledge that their activities are in part a vote of no confidence that the DNC under Chairman Howard Dean is ready to compete with Republicans on the technological front. "The Republicans have developed a cadre of people who appreciate databases and know how to use them, and we are way behind the march," said Ickes, whose political technology venture is being backed by financier George Soros.
"It's unclear what the DNC is doing. Is it going to be kept up to date?" Ickes asked, adding that out-of-date voter information is "worse than having no database at all."
If Ickes builds a better database than the DNC, presumaby it would only be available to paying customers, which might include Clinton. But if she doesn't get the nomination, would the DNC or the winning candidate be willing to fork over the bucks for the best database? Probably not. The DNC sees this as their core job and they plan to build it in-house.
"From an institutional standpoint, this is one of the most important things the DNC can and should do. Building this voter file is part of our job," Communications Director Karen Finney said. "We believe this is something we have to do at the DNC. Our job is to build the infrastructure of the party."
That might be bad news for Democrats. Republican victories of recent years can in large part be attributed to database sophistication.
The Republican database has allowed the party and its candidates to tailor messages to individual voters and households, using information about the kind of magazines they receive, whether they own guns, the churches they attend, their incomes, their charitable contributions and their voting histories.
This makes it possible to specifically address the issues of voters who, in the case of many GOP supporters, may oppose abortion, support gun rights or be angry about government use of eminent domain to take private property. A personalized pitch can be made during door-knocking, through direct mail and e-mail, and via phone banks.
While the Dems have build solid databases in the past, they've suffered technical problems.
In the 2003-2004 election cycle, the DNC began building a national voter file, and it proved highly effective in raising money. Because of many technical problems, however, it was not useful to state and local organizations trying to get out the vote.