Politics & Government

Texas candidates will pay top dollar for info about opponents

AUSTIN — Derek Ryan makes his living foraging for information. Some would call it digging for dirt.

Ryan is a freelance opposition researcher, a profession in high demand this year with the bruising governor's race and the battle for control of the Texas House of Representatives.

Working out of his northwest Austin apartment, the 35-year-old Republican consultant is often hunkered over his computer checking out a criminal records database or poring over the voting history of a public official. On other days, he may be traveling to an out-of-town courthouse to dig through musty deed records or complex lawsuits.

"Information is power," he says. "There is definitely a market for my services."

Ryan, who did opposition research for the Texas Republican Party before starting his own business this year, works exclusively for GOP candidates. Others hire out to Democrats. But the mission is always the same: unearthing every fathomable detail about the other candidate to help yours win.

"In tight races, it can be the difference between winning or losing," says Jason Stanford, president of Austin-based Stanford Campaigns, a firm that specializes in Democratic opposition research.

A key ingredient in Perry-Hutchison race

Opposition research, or "oppo," will be an integral component in scores of Texas races this year from courthouses to the statehouse. But nowhere are the fruits of oppo more apparent than in the Republican gubernatorial primary race between Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Since the race began unfolding more than a year ago, the two campaigns have battered each other with a litany of charges and countercharges that reflect extensive digging into each candidate’s background and lengthy record of public service.

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