Is Scott Brown Closing the GOP Technology Gap?

By Jonathan Blakely

Jan 18, 2010 11:58am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s special Senate election in Massachusetts, the race is stoking Republican optimism that 2010 will be the year that the GOP makes up the so-called technology gap in races against Democrats. The last few election cycles have established a stubborn narrative for Republicans: The political left seemed to have mastered new technologies, using social networking sites and online organizing to deliver money, manpower, and — ultimately — votes to favored candidates and causes. Nowhere was the gap more evident than in 2008, when President Obama used his 13 million strong contact list to break fundraising records and rewrite the presidential campaign playbook, against a candidate who famously didn’t know how to send an e-mail. But in Massachusetts, Republican candidate Scott Brown is the one whose campaign has gone viral. Long before national strategists and analysts were paying attention to the special election for Ted Kennedy’s old seat, Brown’s name was bubbling up among grass-roots conservatives, helped along by online connections. The campaign used Twitter hashtags to spread the word of Brown’s candidacy among Republican activists nation-wide. “Brown brigades” were launched to organize volunteers in Massachusetts in a decentralized manner, in what a campaign official described as mini-Facebooks for neighborhood campaign coalitions. Instead of putting the campaign Web address at the bottom of lawn signs and Web videos, voters were encouraged to send text messages to the campaign — so their contact information could be captured for future use. “We were an underdog campaign, and so we had to run an insurgent-style campaign,” said Rob Willington, the Brown campaign’s Web media director. “You have to take a leap and trust the activists that they’ll show up and work hard.” Brown’s campaign launched a national “money bomb” that helped him raise $1 million a day for a stretch last week, reaching far beyond the borders of his heavily Democratic home state. Along the way, a long-shot candidacy has essentially become a toss-up. As a follow-up effort, the campaign is organizing an Election Day “voter bomb,” where volunteers are committing to bringing certain numbers of fellow voters to the polls. In addition, a Google representative tells ABC that Brown has run “a model campaign online” — using Google AdWords to direct people searching for both his name and Coakley’s to his campaign Website, and employing a “network blast” to spread ads encouraging people to volunteer for the campaign. By late last week, three times as many searches were being entered for Brown than for Coakley, according to Google. The result has been to turn assumptions on their head. Notes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat: “The race’s online landscape looks like last November’s in reverse: from YouTube views to Facebook fans to Twitter followers, Brown enjoys an Obama-esque edge over his Democratic rival.” On the other side, though Coakley’s camp has been less visible in mobilizing its forces online, Democrats have been trying to activate a clearly superior traditional get-out-the-vote operation in Massachusetts. A fund-raising appeal from Vicki Kennedy, plus late visits by former President Bill Clinton and President Obama, are galvanizing Democrats into action. Organizing for America — the old Obama campaign arm — has fired up in Massachusetts; the campaign, plus OFA, boasted of making contact with 575,000 voters on Saturday alone. UPDATE: After this blog posted, the Google representative I was in touch with sent an e-mail to advise that searches for Brown are running 2-1 ahead of searches for Coakley as of today. “He's still way ahead, but she's catching up in terms of people typing their names into Google search,” the Google official wrote.

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