San Mateo Republican office looks to tech industry to create voter database 

The Republican Party is hoping to seize the Democrats’ apparent high-tech edge in the 2014 election season, and a new San Mateo outpost has become the incubator for the initiative.

After the Obama campaign’s pivotal use of new media and digital voter databases, such as Catalist, to mobilize its base in the 2012 presidential election, Republicans are racing to catch up in the midterms. A San Mateo Republican National Committee office funded to focus on digital development is recruiting bright, young tech talent and aiming to fuel conservative innovation in a traditionally left-leaning community.

“We completely redid the way we do digital and data… what we do now and what we did in 2011 and 2012 is night and day,” said Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the RNC. “Silicon Valley in particular helped us out in the beginning of 2013 by guiding the way with ideas of how we wanted to move forward as a committee and as the Republican Party.”

The initiative was launched in February under the heading of Para Bellum Labs, a tech and data incubator designed to move with startup-world speed within the traditionally slower-moving party system.

Para Bellum staffs about 40 employees, recruited from tech companies such as Facebook, Yahoo and Oracle, many of whom travel regularly between San Mateo and Washington, D.C.

“We’re trying to build a platform that helps candidates up and down the ballot by providing a set of platforms to be more effective and efficient in their campaigns,” said Azarias Reda, the RNC’s chief data officer.

According to Reda, the national voter file is the party’s strongest asset and is a key source from which he and his team will build an in-house, unified picture of Republican supporters.

The platform has been funded to the tune of $35 million. In addition to aggregating voter lists, it will capture information about donation history, event attendance, social-media activity and which individuals have been included in email marketing campaigns.

Analytics used in combination with the data will help party representatives better understand voters and more effectively target messaging. A set of applications built by Para Bellum programmers will make the information accessible to both internal and external clients, providing a database tool for Republican candidates across the country.

“We want to be able not only to build up this data set but to be able to expose it,” Reda said. “Perhaps one of the most important parts we do is making this data accessible and actionable by campaigns.”

The opportunity to locate top-notch engineers and programmers and work side-by-side with other industry leaders in open-source technology prompted the move to San Mateo, according to the committee.

“People want to work with us to have impact like not many other places have,” Reda said.

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S. Parker Yesko

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