New Media Campaigning: Is the GOP Web Savvy Enough?

The impact of new media techniques in the 2008 presidential campaign is undeniable; if anything, it’s probably underestimated.

With little effort, one can find at the bottom of every campaign website, a section that looks like the image shown below (taken from Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani’s website).

These links (Facebook, Flicker, YouTube, etc) offer different web based outlets for candidates to reach out to supporters — with the intention of transforming online involvement into campaign contributions and ultimately, votes.

They represent social networks, video blogs, web chats, photo applications and much more. Sounds good so far right? Here is the catch: polls and news stories have consistently positioned Democrats one up on Republicans in terms of using the internet for fundraising and other campaign strategies.

Yesterday morning at the National Press Club — in an event sponsored by the Politico and Waggener Edstrom Worldwide — New Media consultants from the Mitt Romney, Rudy Guiliani, Fred Thompson, and Joe Biden campaigns discussed ways that they are using the internet to reach out to voters.

“Just judging by the traffic numbers and every other metric online people are a lot more excited about the Democratic candidates online,” said moderator Ben Smith of the Politico.

Smith asked Mindy Finn, Director of e-Strategy for the Mitt Romney for President Campaign, if she thought Republicans could catch up:

“To say that we can’t catch up is sort of ignoring things that have happened before in history. There is a lot of time between now and November 2008…we are still in a primary process. The day that there is a nominee on both sides it becomes a completely different race,” said Finn.

Jim VandeHei (also from the Politico and a panel moderator) questioned Finn’s evaluation.

“You guys spend your life thinking about these issues… look a the advantage that the Republicans had because of talk radio and direct mail in the 80’s and 90’s — and clearly the web seems like the new talk radio and direct mail — how concerned are you when you look and see that the Democratic campaigns are adapting to this more quickly?” asked VandeHei.

“It’s certainly a reason for Republicans to be concerned but I wouldn’t say it’s Doomsday,” said Finn.

Maria Comella, Deputy Communications Director for the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee argued that as the race moves out of the primary she believes Republicans will begin to see more traction in their nominee’s online efforts. She said the traffic to Giuliani’s website increased dramatically due to his response to’s ad regarding General Petraeus.

“Contrast to another candidate who stands quite starkly in the opposite direction — I think that does changes things,” said Comella “particularly for a Republican activist — because that’s how they are motivated.”

“Sure, in a lot of ways Obama’s campaign energy comes from that online catching fire way — in a lot of the same ways that Howard Dean’s did — but that did not translate to people turning out to vote”

One GOP candidate that seems to be making the most of his online presence is underdog Congressman Ron Paul. Panelists joked that they were hesitant to offer opinions on the New Media strategies of Paul’s campaign fearing “comment” or “spamming” retribution. Unfortunately for Paul — offline– his candidacy isn’t as trendy. Each campaign panelists stressed the importance naturally in needing offline strengths as well as online.

One of the last questions for the panel came from the audience, a New Media enthusiast wanted to know, “What about Second Life and online games for communities as a way to reach voters and funders, are these too new for the campaign?”

Second Life is an internet based “virtual world” in which users can socialize and participate in individual and group activities as well as create virtual properties and income using avatars as characters. You can virtually have a “second life.” It’ unclear if candidates have any official efforts in Second Life campaigning but Mike Gravel, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have supporters that have set up “campaign headquarters” in Second Life.

After John Edward’s campaign unofficial virtual headquarters was vandalized, many candidates may have had some qualms about participating.

John Edwards’ Vandalized Headquarters

“I think this cycle is unique and we are still trying to figure out the cost benefit of the things we are doing online so its safe to say at this point you shouldn’t be biting off more than you can chew, ” said Comella..

Is Republican hesitation to get involved with radical New Media idea’s like Second Life what keeps them behind in that “online catching fire way?” We may just have to wait for the end of this cycle to see if the GOP can step it up.


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