- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Republicans finally get it — and have jumped on Internet technology in hopes of dominating it in the same way they used talk radio in the early 1990s to build a following.

“Every time I send out a tweet, I’m throwing another shovel of dirt to help bury the old media,” said Rep. John Culberson of Texas, a 52-year-old Republican who became one of the most quoted speakers at the Republican National Committee tech summit Friday.

Of the 219 congressional Republicans, 49 were using Twitter, while 27 of 317 Democrats were using it as of Monday, according to Tweet Congress (www.tweetcongress.org). The site tracks use of Twitter, a social messaging Web site that allows microblog text entries of 140 characters or less, known as tweets.

Mr. Culberson is the most active congressional “tweeter” and the second-most-followed member of Congress, behind only Republican Sen. John McCain.

Their numbers are dwarfed by President Obama’s loyal Internet following, but Mr. McCain’s nearly 35,000 Twitter followers are a stark contrast to the lack of tech savvy he demonstrated during the campaign against his 47-year-old BlackBerry-addicted presidential rival.

Mr. McCain, who never even collected phone numbers for campaign text messaging but created a Twitter feed three days after Mr. Obama became president, tells his fans he’s about to debate earmark reform on the Senate floor and even took a moment to wish the Cardinals good luck in the Super Bowl.

“We did a lot of new-media stuff, but in the context of the Obama campaign, anything we did was automatically drowned out because they were so good at it,” a former McCain campaign aide told The Washington Times.

Ironically, the tech tools at hand since Mr. Obama reached the White House are antiquated compared with what campaign aides were used to using, and the president has stopped text-messaging and using his Twitter feed.

That’s given congressional Republicans and Mr. Obama’s one-time opponent some time to get up to speed, and Tweet Congress calculates that Republicans account for seven of the top 10 most followed Capitol Hill lawmakers.

House Republicans are posting their responses to the Democrats on YouTube, and new Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said Mr. Obama’s domination of the younger generation using technology was a wake-up call.

As several hundred operatives, consultants and activists huddled for the tech summit Friday, Republican officials promised the rush to embrace new technology was “just the beginning.”

They were quick to admit they had been stomped by Democrats and Mr. Obama during the past two elections but said they have the tools to play catch-up.

Mr. Culberson said technology is “the next revolution that’s going to take back the Congress,” suggesting it enables Republicans to “bypass” the traditional liberal media that “for so long was the only way we could communicate with people” and predicting, “They will become obsolete, like buggy whips and horse and carriages.”

The RNC tech summit was held at a Washington hotel but also broadcast online via UStream.tv. Ten minutes into the program, the shaky feed had just 61 viewers watching the summit live. It cut out several times but was up to 109 viewers 30 minutes later, only to drop the signal completely for a half-hour.

By midday, more than 300 viewers were online — many also “tweeting” their impressions of the summit — listening as one presenter talked about the founding of MoveOn.org in the 1990s via a petition against the impeachment of then-President Clinton.

Story Continues →