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GOPAC, Virginia, and center-right infrastructure

Last week, GOPAC released a video/web ad promoting Bob McDonnell for Governor in Virginia. Here's the ad:

Another group, with "GOP" in the name" dropping a campaign ad. Ho hum, right? Not exactly.

GOPAC was founded by Newt Gingrich as a vehicle for operative training, candidate recruitment, and funnelling of money to state legislative races. The organization had a central role in identifying leaders who eventually became part of the 1994 Republican majorities.

So why is this group running an ad? That's the key thing. I talked to Frank Donatelli, the new Chairman of GOPAC, who was previously Deputy Chairman of the Republican National Committee. (In some sense Donatelli swapped jobs with RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who had been Chairman of GOPAC)

GOPAC lives in a new context, completely different than any GOP group has in the past, and it is worth comparing to two previous points in GOP history, 1999 and 1979.

Think back to 1999, when the GOP also did not control the White House. Several things are different from then, and some things were the same. Redistricting was and is coming, and in redistricting, the composition of the state legislatures matters more than Congress for that exercise. GOPAC targets state legislatures. A complete national redistricting plan involves putting points on the board in state legislatures. But since 1999, we have seen campaign finance reform which shrunk the amount of money that could be spent on both legislative races and complicated legal operations like redistricting. Much of a national redistricting plan has to be executed outside of the RNC.

The Democrats have built new infrastructure with 527s (GOPAC's tax status) in the form of groups like the Secretary of States Project. These can use huge individual and corporate contributions. GOPAC is part, but only part, of a complete answer to addressing the redistricting problem.

Unlike 1999, we are down in Congress. The next block of Members of Congress who get us back into the majority will come from the states. This is more like 1979 when Newt started trying to identify a new generation of Congressional leadership. And GOPAC was part of that operation that eventually delivered a majority.

I have argued that our next majority will likely come from new leaders, both for ideological and logistical reasons. GOPAC is putting together a "Rising Stars" program that is trying to identify these new leaders. One example that Chairman Donatelli told me about was Chris Saxman. Anyone who has met Chris knows that he has a great future ahead of him, in addition to his key role in the Virginia legislature.

The media is going to focus on big, splashy things like Arlen Specter's switch of parties yesterday. But Specter is the tail end of an old phenomenon. GOPAC could well be the leading edge of a new one. It won't be flashy for a while, but the spadework is happening now. And it is hard work.

But GOPAC and similar groups are where the action will happen. They are where we will find the next Republican majority and the new Republican coalition and message.

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By Soren Dayton, ago