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Republicans get more web savvy

Jennifer Preston  |  Washington 

Are better prepared to compete on Facebook, Twitter and other online tools for the 2012 presidential contest 

President ObamaAs part of President Obama’s plan to rebuild the grass-roots movement that propelled him to the White House, he took to YouTube this week to urge his 19.3 million Facebook friends to join him, and invite others, for a town-hall-style chat on Facebook on Wednesday with Mark Zuckerberg, the social media site’s chief executive, at his side.

“Hi, everybody,” Obama says in the 30-second YouTube video posted on Monday on his Facebook page. “I just want to take a minute to invite you to a town hall meeting on the economy that I’m holding at Facebook’s headquarters this Wednesday, April 20. It is going to be live-streamed, and I will answer questions from folks across the country.”

By Tuesday afternoon, more than 22,000 people had signed up.

It is all part of Obama’s re-election effort to use social media and other online tools to galvanise supporters. But unlike in the last presidential campaign, Republicans are better prepared to compete online in the 2012 contest.

“The notion that the Internet was owned by liberals, owned by the left in the wake of the Obama victory, has been proven false,” said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican political online strategist who is now advising the exploratory campaign of Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, after working as a digital adviser to President George W. Bush's campaign in 2004 and later to the Republican National Committee.

During last year’s midterm elections, Republicans caught up with Democrats in using and social networks, and now many Republicans elected to the House and Senate are using these tools more than Democrats, according to several political and experts.

“This will be the first election in modern history that both parties are understanding the potential of the to change the results of the election,” said Andrew Rasiej, a co-founder of TechPresident.com, a blog that covers politics and technology, and a digital adviser to Democrats since Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004. “Both Republicans and Democrats are ready to use online platforms and are no longer skeptical of its potential.”

What Republicans recognised after Senator John McCain’s bruising defeat in 2008 is that Obama’s digital strategy was deeply integrated into his real-world campaign. Obama’s team used its website, e-mails and text messages to do more than broadcast his campaign message. The tools made it easier for people to donate online, to volunteer for the field operation, particularly in caucus states, and to assume responsibility for other aspects of the campaign, like assembling groups of neighbors for a chat and creating the Obama'08 iPhone app.

“You learn more from losing than winning sometimes,” said Matt Lira, who worked on the digital team for McCain’s presidential campaign and who is now director of new media for Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican majority leader.

Sarah Palin, who started a new website on Tuesday with features that allow supporters to easily donate to her political action committee, has long had an established and robust presence on Twitter and Facebook, where she has almost 2.9 million fans. Other possible Republican presidential contenders in 2012, including Newt Gingrich,Representative Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee, use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well. Mitt Romney announced his exploratory committee last week with a video, an update on his Facebook page, which has almost 845,000 members, a Twitter post introducing the hashtag #mitt2012, and a new website.

©2011 The New York
Times News Service

First Published: Thu, April 21 2011. 00:16 IST
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