How to generate bad news - for your opponent

Chris Lehane has some advice on how to conduct and deploy effective opposition research during an election campaign. It's all in the latest edition of Atlantic Monthly, where Joshua Green looks at oppo research in general. Lehane's advice is after the jump.

Lehane agrees that the first step is choosing a negative storyline to push and laying the groundwork by talking it up to beat reporters and editors.

"The second step," he says, "is to catalogue a variety of stories you have that support this. You begin by planting some smaller stories so that you build a foundation or basis for the larger story you're going to want to have hitting in the fall."

Especially in a presidential election "you have to plant a lot of the seeds in the spring and the summer so that you can capitalize on it," Lehane says. "If you have a big story that's going to hit in the middle of September, middle of October, what you really want to do is build several things that come off of the story so that it's not just a one-day hit.

If the story runs on the front page of a major paper, you also want to set it up so that it hits some of the television morning shows, and from there you want to have surrogates [friendly talking heads] out the next day, so that you get a second hit.

On the third day, ideally, you have some additional information you've been holding back that you can feed into it [to prompt] another round of stories.

On the fourth or fifth day you try to hold your candidate back from saying anything, so that eventually, when he does say something about the issue, you get another round of stories. If you do it effectively, you can basically wipe out a guy's entire week—he'll spend the entire week responding to a story that showed up on a Monday."

In the heat of the campaign season each week is critical. Not only can a well-orchestrated hit knock an opponent off stride, it can solidify an impression that the many voters just tuning in to the election will carry into the voting booth.