STATE OF THE RACE: NRSC Political Director Ward Baker Talks With TCO

May 24, 2013
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BAKER: "I believe in a free market system for candidate selection.  I don't like to put my thumb on the scale for anyone."

BAKER: “I believe in a free market system for candidate selection. I don’t like to put my thumb on the scale for anyone.”

DENVER — As a data driven strategist, the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s (NRSC) new political director, Ward Baker, believes that yard signs are an invention of the devil.

The press-shy staffer’s focus on spreadsheets over campaign schwag is nothing novel for a national party committee political director, but Baker brings with him a particular zeal for the mechanics of campaigns.

When it comes to Colorado and the re-election campaign of Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall, Baker thinks the nuts and bolts of an off-year race give Republicans a real shot at taking down the incumbent politician.

The historically lower turnout of off-year elections will be a disadvantage to Udall, who won’t be able to rely on the vaunted get out the vote effort of the Obama campaign. Additionally, with the unfolding scandals consuming the Obama administration and its allies, Baker sees a political environment ripe for challengers.

“People in Colorado like people who are straight shooters,” Baker told The Observer in an interview last week. “You see that with elected officials on both sides. That’s not something we’re seeing from the administration right now.”

The challenge for the NRSC, and Republicans in Colorado more specifically, will be recruiting a strong challenger to Udall, who was first elected to the Senate in 2008. Udall served five terms in the House prior to his time in the Senate.

On that, Baker plans on not making the mistakes of his predecessors, who were seen to have been weighing in on behalf of a favored candidate in 2010 in Jane Norton. A controversy erupted after it was revealed that the NRSC had reserved a web domain for the Norton campaign, angering grassroots conservatives who felt that a national party committee should not be dictating their nominee.

“I believe in a free market system for candidate selection,” Baker told The Observer. “I don’t like to put my thumb on the scale for anyone.”

While he’s willing to meet with anyone looking at the race, the NRSC is not planning on playing a role in the Republican primary.

Baker also doesn’t believe that there’s a need to rush into the race in the era of 527s and Super PACs. A candidate can bide their time, and campaign cash, as outside groups are likely to be leveling attacks on their opponents and raising the profiles of their preferred candidates.

Taking time to get everything lined up will be key before jumping in, Baker says, noting he believes a candidate needs to have their first three or four months planned out before announcing.

When a candidate is selected, the NRSC is interested in making sure the candidate and their campaign are up to speed on the latest in political tactics and strategy. In that vein, Baker says they’d like to host a campaign school for the eventual nominee that goes over everything from message progression to digital tools and tactics.

When it comes to Colorado Republicans, that’s an offer many in the rank and file will likely hope the nominee accepts. After the disastrous candidacy of 2010 gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes, and some missteps in the Buck campaign for U.S. Senate, Republicans are hoping their nominee will put forth a top notch effort in 2014.

Ultimately, the NRSC believes, the campaign will be a referendum on Mark Udall’s time in office and the disconnect between his DC persona and his Colorado profile.

“Mark Udall says one thing in Colorado and does another in DC,” says Baker. “He tries to please everybody.”

Local critics have also been attacking Udall for presenting a moderate image in Colorado while voting for every big ticket liberal bill in Congress, from the stimulus to Obamacare and the carbon tax. Conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics believes Udall’s attempts to avoid definition as a liberal won’t be successful forever, claiming he “won’t be able to hide from his record.”

“What does Udall stand for?,” Baker asks rhetorically. “What is the big thing he accomplished? I know where his cousin [U.S. Senator] Tom [Udall] stands.”

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