Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has many factors to thank for his victory in Tuesday's recall election. His supporters raised $7.50 for every dollar in Democrat Tom Barrett's campaign coffers and outspent Barrett's supporters in advertising. But one of the most striking things about his victory is that Republican grassroots activists used the web to mobilize a polarized electorate, something Democrats have traditionally been able to do more effectively.
"We have 72 counties here in Wisconsin, and the majority of the counties have their own Facebook pages," Ben Sparks, a Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman, told techPresident in mid-May. "And so we help all of our county parties and our grassroots supporters maintain their Facebook pages thoughout the state. We help them to develop the message and send them ideas for their tweets and their Facebook pages, so that not only are we doing it, but all our local counties are doing the same thing so that we're all unified in posting the same message."
Union activists supporting Barrett, meanwhile, rolled out voter outreach tools including one, still in private beta testing, that lets supporters reach out to likely voters among their Facebook friends.
The race is also a prime example of how online outreach can pay dividends in the future. Organizers on both sides were doing their best to track every call made and record every voter's reaction, creating intelligence on the voter base that may be crucial come November.
National campaigns use sophisticated tools to target their messaging to undecided voters and engage supporters online, but some lower-profile candidates say they're able to get mileage out of the same platforms, like Facebook, that the rest of us use in our everyday lives.
Lori Compas, a first-time candidate who took on a key Walker ally in a Republican district in Tuesday's election, says she used a private Facebook page to coordinate volunteers in the run-up to Tuesday. It was a critical tool in a rural district, she said. (Compas, who lost by a wide margin, also had access to voter database software that most state-level Democratic candidates have available.)
"I think people think that running for office is really hard, but in this day and age it really isn't," Compas said. "If you can coordinate your volunteers online, even if you've got a far-flung district like this, one if you can coordinate them online and get them to go out into their communities — it's not that difficult."
Progressive organizations like the New Organizing Institute and Republican-allied groups — such as Americans for Prosperity, American Majority Action and a network of anti-abortion groups centered around Focus on the Family — are banking on exactly the same idea to mobilize supporters in dozens of smaller races across the country. Trainings for candidates and staffers on the right and left are now underway in the hopes that broad grassroots networks will create a greater number of competitive races. These networks might also play a role in the presidential election.
Nick Judd is managing editor for TechPresident. This is the second in a series of regular dispatches for Yahoo News about how campaigns are using technology in the 2012 election.