Thursday, July 9, 2009

One Twitters his music playlist. The other Twitters multiplatform requests for money and supporters.

They are the candidates for governor of Virginia, a state with one of the highest Internet penetrations, and they aren’t shy about Twittering, Facebooking, texting and YouTubing their message to the cell phones, computers and PDAs of potential voters.

The tactics aren’t new. “New media” figured prominently in the 2008 presidential election, but it is unknown how many voters actually cast ballots because of Twitter — a social-networking phenomenon whose users can post mini-updates, or “Tweets,” in 140 or fewer characters. Whether Virginia voters will be swayed because they like the fact that state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds listens to Bruce Springsteen or that his Republican opponent, former state Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, keeps a more stately tone remains to be seen.

In an era when politicians often appear only in packaged sound bites and are savaged for not being tech-savvy, Mr. Deeds is constantly posting mini-updates or Tweets and allowing the unfettered personal access that only Twitter provides. His Republican opponent has staffers who send periodic updates on his “bobmcdonnell” account.

The Republican joined Twitter in May 2008, while the Democrat, who writes under “CreighDeeds,” is a relatively new convert, signing up in February. Accordingly, Mr. McDonnell has about twice as many followers as Mr. Deeds.

Both campaigns have hired media gurus from the 2008 presidential election. Mr. McDonnell is even using the same telephone texting company as President Obama, while Mr. Deeds has hired the man behind Mr. Obama’s texting campaign.

Kate Sokolov, the new-media director for the Deeds campaign, said the goal is to use every medium available to deliver the maximum amount of information about the candidate. The campaign also is using Facebook and texting. But the response on Twitter increased exponentially once Mr. Deeds began issuing Tweets himself.

Mr. Deeds said he Twitters between meetings or on lunch breaks. “I don’t Twitter that much,” he said, but noted that his new-media team thought he would set himself apart by personally Twittering.

During his presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, was pounded for technology ignorance. Since returning to the Senate, he has taken up Twitter and sends updates daily, sometimes hourly. As of Wednesday, “SenJohn McCain” had 966,513 followers, as the people who are signed up to read his posts are called.

To younger followers, Tweets from Mr. Deeds, 51, might give the image of an out-of-touch dad. “I know its only rock and roll but I like it,” he responded to Aimee on June 7 to thank her for her endorsement.

In a more serious Tweet on June 1, he wrote, “my heart goes out to all the workers - and their families - of the GM Spotsylvania County plant which will close it doors.”

At other times, he makes a personal campaign plea: “Sorry. I’m not a pushy guy but I need your vote and would appreciate your consideration,” he wrote June 5 just days before the Democratic primary.

The mandate was “don’t just do it about policy or about politics so much, but just about what you’re doing,” Mr. Deeds said. “It was a little bit foreign to me, but it didn’t take long. I caught on.”

Catching on included his love of music. “I pretty much listen to music all the time,” he said, so his updates often read like the contents of his iPod. “Been on a Springsteen binge last 24 hours. Seems appropriate,” he wrote June 2. He followed a little more than seven hours later with an update. “In the interrupted phase of my Boss binge. On the road. I love the first 5 albums. Born to Run is the opus, but right now my fave is,” he wrote and then got cut off because he had exceeded 140 characters.

One second later, he finished the thought. “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.”

Tweets from Mr. McDonnell, 55, are more reserved. The campaign has been using the site to raise funds and get more supporters on Facebook. One recent example: “A little over 10,000 to reach my goal. Can you help prove that the GOP can raise money online?”

The competition to be the most tech-savvy candidate is heating up. J. Tucker Martin, communications director for the McDonnell campaign, said that while Mr. McDonnell doesn’t personally Twitter, “he said he wanted to run the most technologically adept campaign in Virginia political history.”

To that end, the campaign is using an arsenal similar to the Deeds campaign’s and has even embedded a request on campaign paraphernalia from posters to the Web site to text “Go Bob” to receive updates.

Last week, the McDonnell campaign sent out a text that “Bob McDonnell needs your help to get the word out! This weekend, volunteer locally with Bob and his campaign. For more info go to”

By the numbers, Mr. McDonnell’s new-media campaign is out in front of the Deeds campaign. On Wednesday, Mr. Deeds had 2,170 followers on Twitter, while Mr. McDonnell had 4,046 followers. But both candidates’ numbers pale in comparison to Mr. McCain’s and represent just a tiny percentage of Virginia’s 5.8 million voters.

Facebook numbers were in Mr. McDonnell’s favor, too. Mr. Deeds had 8,867, and Mr. McDonnell had 14,174 supporters, people who have signed on to the page where they can read updates and post thoughts.

The campaigns’ new-media tactics were on display during the Democratic primary campaign. After Mr. McDonnell was safely nominated by his party, his campaign bought the search terms “Democratic Primary” and “Creigh Deeds” so that voters Googling the terms would see one of his ads. Meanwhile, Mr. Deeds’ team bought a powerful “Google Blast” or “Google Bomb” in Northern Virginia that ensured that anyone using Google-affiliated sites would see their ads.

The Deeds campaign also sent two texts reminding people to vote and used targeted ads on Facebook for the last two days of the primary campaign.

Mr. Martin said the McDonnell campaign is “leaps and bounds ahead of the campaigns and the Democrats,” but things may change.

Twitter, texting and Facebook updates aside, Ms. Sokolov said, the Deeds camp is going “to try to do more new, innovative things” for the general election campaign.

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