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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Political Junkie Special: Oppo Research Pioneer Joe Rodota Talks about the Dark Art of Campaigns

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Bespectacled, cerebral and cordial, Joe Rodota seems an unlikely figure to be burdened with the nickname "Dr. Death."

But that's what his colleagues tagged him back in the day, when he was a key member of the top-rank campaign team of former two-term California Governor Pete Wilson.

The sobriquet was only semi-ironic, as Rodota's mild manner belies a well-earned reputation as an innovative and enterprising collector and synthesizer of killer research on campaign rivals -- a virtuoso operative who in his salad days helped pioneer the professional political speciality of opposition research -- aka "oppo."

"Campaigns are won in the library," Rodota said, repeating the mantra of opposition researchers everywhere.

Proprietor of a Sacramento-based consulting firm, Joe is a Renaissance man -- an author, playwright and advocate for the arts whose most recent project is a new podcast called "Oppo File" in which he goes behind-the-scenes to explore the history, people, controversies, impact and consequences of the dark art of American politics.

It's a rich field for study, as Rodota shows in early episodes of "Oppo File," the first of which traces the application of the technique campaign backgrounding back to the presidential campaign of 1828 -- when Andrew Jackson was pilloried as the "paramour husband of a convicted adulteress" - while the second provides a compelling look at the 1988 campaign, when George Bush I famously trounced Michael Dukakis using ruthless but well-documented attacks on his record. Just out today: a look at how the legacy of 1988 is playing amid the current national reckoning over race and policing.

It's fascinating stuff, not only for political junkies intrigued by the techniques and personalities of political campaigns, but also for anyone who cares about our democracy, as Joe and guests wrestle with the broader issues and implications raised by the stories that he tells.

Newsmakers says check it out.


Click below to see our conversation with Joe Rodota and...the podcast version is here.

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