Friday, April 24, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

UCD grad leads Republicans into digital fray

andy barkettW

Andy Barkett, chief technology officer for the Republican National Committee, is seen in San Francisco on Sept. 25. Lea Suzuki/San Francisco Chronicle photo

By
From page A7 | October 13, 2013 |

By Joe Garofoli

Andy Barkett is a futuristic kind of Republican, a 33-year-old former Facebook and Google engineer who is a creature of the libertarian side of Silicon Valley.

The 2009 graduate of UC Davis’ Bay Area master of business administration program wasn’t even registered as a Republican before he got his new gig in June as the first-ever chief technology officer of the Republican National Committee.

Now he’s being hailed as a godsend to the GOP as he spends half his time darting across the country raising money to fund the party’s attempt to close its the digital gap with Democrats and the other half pounding out code in the RNC’s new San Mateo office.

But Barkett is finding that there’s a big difference between working at a high-speed tech company and the plodding, bureaucratic pace of the political world.

“One of the starkest differences between Washington and Silicon Valley for me has been the speed at which things move,” Barkett said last week in San Francisco. “At Facebook, there are signs on the wall that say, ‘Every day feels like a week.’ Meaning that you can have an idea in the morning, by that afternoon you write the code, and the next day you’re trying it out on 1.1 billion users. There’s not enough of that mentality in the political space.”

Getting around

He’s been kinetic since being hired. One night last week, he was talking to Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker — whom Barkett admires for his tough stand against public-sector unions — and the next day he was headed to address a venture capital conference in Marin County.

During his travels, Barkett said, people tell him that “I didn’t want to give to the RNC, but I will help you.” So last week, the RNC rolled out a new Digital and Data Fund, where contributions to the national party will be earmarked for the improved use of technology to attract more votes to the GOP.

Already, Barkett is set to begin road-testing some of the new technology his fledgling team has created, both in New York City and in a place to be determined in California. One is a tool that would help campaign staff better target people when they canvas door-to-door.

Digital guinea pig

He envisions using the California Republican Party, which has new, tech-friendly leadership, as the digital guinea pig for many of the new ventures coming out of the RNC’s laboratory.

“In the few months since Andy has joined our team, he’s already started changing the way we operate here at the RNC — centering everything we do around data and technology like never before,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

“What we are doing is designed to leapfrog the Democrats by revitalizing our operations to benefit Republicans up and down the ballot for cycles to come,” Priebus said.

That leapfrog will be tough.

Where’s the talent?

“The question is, does the GOP have the talent pool to do this? It’s an unanswered question,” said Nick Judd, who until August was the managing editor of TechPresident.com, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes technology, politics and government.

While Barkett is confident that the new tech focus will make a difference in the 2014 midterm elections, he acknowledged that a big challenge is “lack of talent. I’d say there were maybe half a dozen really smart guys in this tech area within the RNC. We obviously need a whole lot more than that,” he said.

The other, he said, was a “lack of a connection between (computer) systems. There were all these systems out there, but none of them talk to each other. So people have all of this really valuable data about voters, but this system doesn’t speak the same language as another system.

“This is something I learned at Facebook. There’s a huge network effect in sharing that information. There’s a spillover. It’s valuable in ways you wouldn’t have thought of when you collected it.”

Divide between parties

Barkett acknowledged a digital divide between the parties. For one, Republicans “don’t have enough data scientists … a person whose primary skill is taking very disparate things — understanding statistics, some math — and be able to look inside this data and find something out about it” that ultimately will deliver more votes to the GOP.

But the Democrats’ digital edge is about more than technologists or technology, said Ethan Roeder, who ran the data departments for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns.

“The biggest single advantage we enjoyed (in 2012) was cultural. It’s true that we had a much larger technology team, digital team, analytics team. But frankly, the reason that we were able to deliver votes on election day for Barack Obama was because the leadership of the campaign allowed the evidence — the data, the analytics — to inform the strategy. And that requires a leap of faith.”

Roeder said, “It’s a myth that all techies are Democrats. It’s just not true. The Republicans have money to throw at talent — at analysts and technologists. The real challenge there is cultural.”

The hidden GOP

Barkett, who was raised in Sacramento and now lives in Redwood City, agreed that there are plenty of Republicans in Silicon Valley. They’re just not visible yet.

“The Republican brand is in a little bit of the doldrums, I don’t think that’s unfair to say. Right now, even if you want lower taxes, even if you want a pro-business agenda, even if you want a pro-business immigration policy, it’s not that flattering to call yourself a Republican. You’re not quite sure what your friends would think.

“I was worried that I would lose friends when this announcement came out. But I didn’t. Not one,” he said.

He has a vision for what his new Silicon Valley GOP operation would look like.

“I want guys in rooms with pizza boxes working all night and feeling ownership over this project and feeling that we have to get this done now. There are some people in Washington who are like that. But that mentality of ‘let’s just dive in and solve this right now, don’t talk about it, don’t hire a vendor to hire another vendor, let’s just do it right now.’ That’s not prevalent enough.”

— Reach Joe Garofoli at [email protected]

Comments

comments

San Francisco Chronicle

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    Water and power have a troubling interdependency

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    New design submitted for conference center

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Los Angeles march to commemorate Armenian killings

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Hostage deaths a reminder of risk of ‘deadly mistakes’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Bob Dunning: Fairness is an afterthought for them

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    Walkers head out three times weekly

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4Comments are off for this post

     
    Got bikes? Donate ‘em!

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Beginning tai chi classes start May 5

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    College Night set April 30 at DHS

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Tour of co-ops precedes Sacramento conference

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    School board hears report on health services

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A5

    Mamajowali will perform at benefit house concert

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    Explorit: Celebrate International Astronomy Day

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Learn basics of composting in Woodland

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Take a peek at region’s past at Tremont Mite Society’s social

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8 | Gallery

    BeerFest expands to include cider

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

     
    Winkler Dinner raises funds for enology, viticulture activities

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8 | Gallery

    Raptor Center welcomes visitors at May 2 open house

    By Trina Wood | From Page: A8 | Gallery

     
    Mapping where human action is causing earthquakes

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A9

    Hummingbird health: Appreciating the little things

    By Kat Kerlin | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    .

    Forum

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: B4

     
    The fight for gender pay equity

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

     
    Thanks for supporting the arts

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    Bike Swap another success

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    Drink is a tasteless insult

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    It’s a depressing beat

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    .

    Sports

    Reeling Blue Devils stop skid against Sheldon

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Aggie Spring Game environment will up the gridiron fun factor

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Rare DHS track loss still full of highlights

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Lehner talks about the UCD student-athlete experience

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

     
    DYSA roundup: Lester, Osborne lead Storm over Dixon

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    Lady Demons’ fundraiser a smash hit

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    Pro baseball roundup: River Cats lose their fourth straight

    By Staff and wire reports | From Page: B12

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

     
    ‘Ex Machina': The perils of playing God

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A10 | Gallery

    Ceramicist works will be featured at The Artery

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Chamber expands Korean sister-city opportunities

    By Felicia Alvarez | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Car Care: Tips for buying your first ATV

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B6

    Subaru goes rear-wheel drive with sporty BRZ coupe

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: B7 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, April 24, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B5