The War Room

The rapid-response and/or opposition research hub of an election campaign organization.

The name “War Room” itself gained currency from the popular 1993 documentary The War Room, which chronicled political operations in the successful 1992 Bill Clinton campaign, and made household names out of staffers James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. As with so many American political innovations, the War Room appellation soon became de rigueur in Canadian campaigns.

The basic function of a war room is decidedly non-glamorous: large groups of young staffers – usually in close quarters and round-the-clock shifts – monitor in microscopic detail the 24-hour news cycle in search of the latest gaffe or nose-stretcher from opponents. The war room then helpfully brings the item to the attention of the media, placing their opponent on the defensive.

Others in the group focus on archival materials or follow up on outside leads, looking for the buried or long-forgotten quote or personal detail from an opposition candidate. If the discovery is embarrassing enough, it can – and on occasion has – force a party to drop a nominated candidate.

Without adult supervision, war rooms have often descended into a frat house-type environment, whose unrestrained political machismo can lead them to make over-the-top attacks that backfire badly. The “Kitten Eater” episode of the 2003 Ontario election is often cited as a case study in how an out-of-control war room can sink its own campaign.

Image source: Flickr user Chris Gampat

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