Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beached Whale: What Happened To Mitt Romney's Project ORCA?

One of the infuriating data points that came out of Mitt Romney's loss on Election Day was the catastrophic failure of ORCA, a GOTV effort, based around a computer program that brought live voter data to the Romney camp's Boston HQ so that they could better deploy resources to hustle up voters who hadn't made it to the polls. At least that's what it was supposed to do. The program apparently crashed, stranding tens of thousands of volunteers and leaving the GOP blind. This is why tech companies don't like to release the beta version of their latest products. (Word on the street is that Romneys wizz-kids didn't do a system-wide test before election day. We kept being told this was the "most important election of our lifetime" but it sure is beginning to look like a lot of people in the upper levels of the GOP didn't act like it.)

By contrast, check out this inside look at the Obama campaign's data-mining system, named Narwhal. Obama hired top tech guys from Google, Facebook, and other companies. They set up a complex cloud-based system on Amazon's servers, and then subjected it to rigorous tests, including a number of live-action practice runs. They worked 14-hour days, etc. You get the feeling Romney's guys were doing this (or were as smart)? Me neither.

That there was a massive failure of some kind is undeniable (people have testified to experiencing it in Ohio, Colorado, Florida and Virginia). But, there has been precious little talk of it from the Romney camp's after-action reports (that's in contrast to his "notorious" comment about how Obama won by giving voters gifts. more on that tomorrow). I'm sure there are a lot of red faces out there, at least there better be. But, we are being told that the GOP needs to make all sorts of dubious ideological adjustments based on a narrow election loss that you could plausibly blame,  at least in part, on a crippled GOTV effort. At the very least, we should know who put this disaster together so we can make sure they are never allowed near a Republican campaign ever again. (the enterprising Stacy McCain has already named some names).

Word is now coming out that Anonymous claims to have hacked ORCA and brought the system down. Is that true? Well, they have hacked plenty of other systems in the name of global leftism, ranging from San Francisco's BART system to websites daring to support Israel. Hacking a Republican campaign would fit right in with their modus operendi. And it's not implausible that someone disabled ORCA, whether as a dirty trick or for darker reasons. Plenty of characters inside and outside of the US had reason to dread the return of Republicans to the Executive Branch, and hacking into a buggy system like ORCA - apparently ramped up in a hurry in a few months - doesn't seem like all that daunting a task, especially since the Romney camp was bragging about ORCA in the months before the election, in contrast to the tight lipped Obama operation.

Mitt Romney lost a very close election that he genuinely believed was in the bag. You could make a list of "reasons he lost" as long as your arm. The absolute failure of his GOTV operation in states where he lost by tens of thousands of votes has to be a factor, and is deserving of a lot more attention before we start making any "deals" as a sop to this or that disenchanted voting block.

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