Business, Community & Government

Researching Your Opponent

David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Lesson time 9:49 min

Karl delves into the whys and hows of conducting opposition research, and addresses the ethical concerns of this practice.

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Topics include: Opposition Research Is Essential • The Ethics of Opposition Research


If you're in a big campaign, like president or senator or governor, you're going to in all likelihood hire a firm that specializes in this. But if you're involved in a lesser campaign, you still need to do opposition research. You need to approach this by looking at the public records and public statements and public actions of your opponent, and in all ways. I mean, have they held elective office before? Are they-- have they sought office before? Collect all that they have said during those times. There are public records about, you know, have they paid their taxes, do they have liens on their property, have they owned a small business. You know, what claims have they made about themselves? You'll be surprised if you do this. This is public records, and so you're not-- you know, you're not hiring a private investigator to search into their personal activities. But you are looking at what they've said on a public level and trying to get a sense of what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, what do they believe, how do they think, and what do they say. And in all of those things, are their weaknesses? And are their strengths? Are there things that they are going to emphasize that are going to be of advantage to them? And are there things that they say and do that could be of advantage to you? Let me give you one weird example. We were running a campaign for the Texas Railroad Commission. Now, that may sound like it's sort of hokey. It's the worst-named government body in America. It actually regulates the Texas oil and gas industry. Three-member commission, elected statewide. So it's powerful because the oil and gas industry is big in Texas. A vacancy came open on it, and the governor of Texas, Ann Richards, appointed a young protégé, a Democrat state representative from Austin named Lena Guerrero. And she was impressive-- smart, able, a rise-and-comer. She could be a statewide candidate, and she was clearly being groomed by Ann Richards. And over the course of the campaign, we did our opposition research at the start of the campaign. We began noticing that in different places, at different times, she claimed to have had a different major at the University of Texas. In one place she was a journalism major. In another one she was a political science major. Another one, she was a government major. And she kept claiming different majors in different places. So we sort of went to say, what was her major? Why does she say different things in different places? Well, come to find out, she never graduated. And yet she had given two commencement addresses, one at Texas State University and one at Texas A&M, in which she referenced her own college graduation. In fact, at A&M she said, I remember well my own commencement, and she claimed in these articles to have been a graduate of the University of Texas with these various majors. Well, when this emerged in the ca-- in the campaign, I mean she was basically dumbing ...

About the Instructor

David Axelrod and Karl Rove reach across the aisle to offer an inside look at winning campaign strategies. The respective architects of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s historic election victories teach how to develop a campaign platform and reach an audience with consistent messaging. Find the inspiration and tools to get involved at any level, or simply become a more informed, engaged citizen.

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David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Renowned presidential campaign strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove reveal what goes into effective political strategy and messaging.

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