Location based social networks and the 2010 campaign

As discussed previously, no one is quite sure what to make of location-based networks yet – to the point where Christopher Walling of Project Virginia makes a compelling case that such technology won’t be impactful until at least 2012:

Not only are campaigns unable to reach a significant amount of voters, but I also don’t see using an LBSN [location-based social network] to disclose your candidate’s location as an overly effective tactic.  Most of the venues that candidates will “check-in” at are campaign events or fundraisers, which most would expect them to attend anyway.  If candidates choose to “check-in” at more “off-the-radar” locations, then they are essentially giving political trackers and their opponents an upper-hand, (don’t forget this is the year of the tracker) which could lead to more unsavory “gotcha” moments.

Not only is Walling right on about the time frame, he’s also right on about the concept of candidates checking in being kind of dumb – thought not because of the army of interns on both sides with flip video cameras and attitude problems.

Social networks involve two-way communication rather than one-way broadcast communication.  That’s why good online strategists look for opportunities to engage with supporters, rather than simply building giant email lists.  The bottom line is that few voters give a crap where a candidate is.

On the other hand, an activist may want everyone to know that he or she just checked into Campaign HQ to stuff envelopes for three hours; or they may want to know where polling places are.  If they have three hours to kill on a weekend, they may want to know if there’s a neighborhood nearby where no one has gotten around to knocking on doors.

In other words,it isn’t important for the candidate to be active for a campaign to get a lot out of a location-based social network; but as Walling mentions early on in his post, the supporters sure have to be.

IT’S A TRAP: The Ground Zero Mosque

On the Today show this morning, Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks sat down to talk about their new book, Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto.  FreedomWorks is well-positioned to ride the wave of citizen unrest that gave rise to the tea party – they’ve been making the case for less government for years.

So of course the first thing they were asked about was… the proposed mosque at ground zero.

Armey and Kibbe are both bright, so they immediately accused President Obama of weighing in on the mosque controversy to change the subject from “failed economic policies.”

Clearly, the President will score no political points with his lukewarm two-step of supporting the right to build a mosque while not supporting the mosque.  But there is a real threat that the controversy could muddy the GOP’s year-long message that government is trying to do too much with calls for government intervention in New York zoning decisions. As Gov. Chris Christie notes, Republicans run a risk by trying to turn the mosque controversy into their central campaign platform – especially with so many other messages that could work better.

Republican hopefuls must strike a balance between reminding people that the President disagrees with them on the mosque and using it to underscore the inability to trust the federal government to solve problems:

  • “The President is commenting on a local government zoning matter instead of paying attention to national priorities.”
  • “The President is talking about mosques while the rest of the country tries to figure out how to get out from under the failed stimulus package and get the economy moving again.”
  • ‘”The construction jobs building the mosque must be their best idea for job creation.”

See?  This stuff practically writes itself, and would allow Republicans to pivot to more substantive arguments about why they will make life better for the American people.

The GOP has plenty to talk about as November approaches.  Armey and Kibbe offer an excellent lesson: the mosque is a good conversation starter, but it shouldn’t dominate the discussion.

Is Maxine Waters about to be James O’Keefe’s next YouTube star?

Mr. ACORN pimp himself, James O’Keefe, announced via Twitter today that Rep. Maxine Waters would be the subject of his next series of videos.  Here’s the preview:

Two things are evident: O’Keefe still understands the power of online video, and he still understands the power of timing.

The ethics charges flying around various Democrats are starting to look like a trend – much like Republican scandals leading up to the 2006 election painted the picture of a power-happy party inviting a rude awakening at the hands of voters.  Getting Waters on camera in a sting operation like this could make the ethics violations very real to voter and underscore the broken promises of Democratic gains in 2006 and 2008.

But on top of that, you can’t say enough about O’Keefe’s media-savvy release strategy, either.

By releasing a teaser, O’Keefe capitalizes on this week’s news cycle about Waters and her ethics charges.  After controversy surrounding his presence in a Senate office earlier this year (and the storm surrounding his associate Andrew Breitbart’s role in the Shirley Sherrod affair), he can expect that this initial release will lead to a round of denouncement from left-leaning talking heads; for a while the story will be that James O’Keefe has a Waters video.  The Congresswoman’s office will likely be asked to comment; maybe she’ll even say something embarrassing and unwittingly drum up more coverage.

True, O’Keefe could have gotten just as much coverage this week by releasing a completed video.  But what about next week?  This strategy allows O’Keefe, after the initial frenzy, to drop a second video and get another round of coverage.  And, the vile and hatred he receives from the left this week may make the release of the full video that much more newsworthy.

If it sounds familiar, it should – it’s exactly how O’Keefe and Breitbart set up ACORN to take itself down.

The right way to lose

It isn’t going out on a limb to say that Len Britton likely won’t beat Patrick Leahy to become the next U.S. Senator from Vermont.  But he has used a couple of campaign videos to point out the problem of government overspending, and who foots the bill:

In another video, the creepy government guy hands Billy and his family a check for their share of the national debt.  When Billy points out that it’s a lot of money, creepy government guy taunts, “Better get a paper route, Billy!”

The videos have received national attention, because they deliver a message in a creative, funny way.  They’re also excellent examples of the right way to run an extremely uphill race.

I’m not very familiar with Britton’s campaign, so he could be an insane, foil hat-wearing Lyndon Larouche backer who thinks that the destruction of the Death Star was God’s revenge for the Empire’s tolerance of same-sex Jawa marriage.  But based on this limited sample, Britton uses his underdog status to make his point in a way that would scare off many campaigns in the thick of a close race. If Britton were to drop this strategy to rant about the President’s birth certificate, Sarah Palin’s baby, or some other conspiracy theory for the deranged the damage to his personal credibility will be dwarfed by the damage he does to the Republican brand.

Britton may wind up underfunded, and his videos may be limited to their viral appeal, and it may not be enough to keep Leahy from wiping the floor with him come November.  But this isn’t the last election in Vermont, so this video and the messages it carries can still set the table for victory – even if it isn’t until Billy’s old enough to vote.

Messaging Social Security

The Washington Examiner’s Chris Stirewalt correctly writes today that Republican lawmakers have to craft a better, pro-active message to take advantage of voter disillusionment this year.  Townhall’s Maggie Gallagher throws a wet blanket on an issue that gets many on the right-of-center side excited: Social Security reform.

Gallagher claims that any effort to include an overhaul of social security into the talking points would meet with utter doom, citing President Bush’s failed 2005 effort as evidence that the American people are not on board with the concept:

[P]olls showed the more he talked, the less Americans liked it… “Three months after President Bush launched his drive to restructure Social Security by creating private investment accounts, public support for his program remains weak, with only 35 percent of Americans now saying they approve of his handling of the issue, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll,” The Washington Post reported on March 15, 2005. “Moreover, 58 percent of those polled this time said the more they hear about Bush’s plan, the less they like it.”

And this was before the stock market crashed, and ordinary people at or nearing the age of retirement lost huge chunks of their investment portfolios. Yet in 2010, one of the GOP’s bright young stars, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, pulled together a deficit reduction plan that called once again for the partial privatization of Social Security, and leading conservatives piled on the praise.

Gallagher may be right that Social Security is a difficult election year, but it isn’t impossible.  Entitlement reform is tricky, with demagoguery from parties who feel they will be injured.  But remember that the American people were for Social Security reform before they were against it.  And entitlement reform will have much better traction in the current political environment if properly framed

Bush’s mistake in 2005 was that he was left vulnerable to a coalition of labor and senior voices.  The effort to make the necessary reforms will need a few new messages and strategies, such as:

  • Accurately positioning reform as the creation of the retirement system of the future, versus the retirement system of 1930.
  • Appeals to seniors that promising to protect their benefits while allow their children and grandchildren more freedom for their own retirement.
  • Engagement of young (age 22-35) members of the work force, who have the most to lose from a government-run retirement plan.
  • Tracking and satirizing Democrat, union, and AARP efforts to smear the plan.
  • Putting a real face on the people who stand to benefit from reform.

Gallagher is dead-on, however, in identifying Social Security as a probable Democratic talking point in 2010 (why stop now, after all?).  It has already started in the Nevada Senate race.  The need to counter this messaging is critical for Republicans.

November expectations

The bar has been set for the GOP in November: outside of a takeover of the House and Senate, all electoral gains will be failures.  At least, that’s the expectation according to the Democrats.

The White House is openly discussing the prospect of a Republican Congress.  The Democrats’ ploy to tie BP to the GOP this week – the clever microsite BP Republicans – says that the politicians it highlights “will be guiding U.S. Policy if the Republicans can regain control of Congress this November.”

This rhetoric sets the stage for effective policy messaging assuming the Republicans don’t retake the majority.  A post-November Congress with fewer Democratic seats but maintaining a blue majority would give President Obama the opportunity to use the “I won the election and you lost” argument he was so fond of early in his Presidency. And if Republicans do re-take the House, the shock is lessened somewhat because, after all, they would only have accomplished what was expected.

Despite the complaints from some of the people actually running, the White House is smart to set the bar high for Republicans and low for Democrats.

Wait… who’s running in the actual race?

In this commercial, Sen. Barbara Boxer is seeking reelection by fending off Sarah Palin – who not only isn’t running, but isn’t from California.

Meanwhile, Carly Fiorina is not only challenging Boxer, but Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Countless Republicans will take to the campaign trail in the next few months railing against President Obama, countless Democrats will dredge up the ghost of George W. Bush.

It’s an accepted (and effective) campaign tactic, made especially famous in 1994 when Republicans used then-new technology to morph images of opponents into Bill Clinton.  So why stop here?  Why not run against Jimmy Carter?  Richard Nixon?  Maybe President Mitchell from Dave (the real one, not the one that was actually Dave)?

Tell me, who the #$%& are you?

Politics in the Carolinas has been good for comedians over the last few weeks, and Congressman Bob Etheridge was able to keep it going with this now-famous video:

“Who are you?”?!?  He’s a guy with a camera, genius.

That’s what makes this so hilarious:   Etheridge had all the cards and lost the hand.

Option A: Some scrubby little schmuck with a camera and a blue blazer comes pointing a camera in his face, and apparently asks if he supports “the Obama Agenda.”  A smile, a polite question back (“Well, what do you think the ‘Obama Agenda’ is, sir?”), and a re-framing of the issue (“I support policies that will help my constituents, and I’ll work with anyone who wants to help – yes, if they’re the President of the United States.”) and this go away.  Congressman Etheridge walks away laughing, and the kid with his face blurred out has no good footage.  Or, if he’s feeling especially saucy, he stays and has a civil discussion – after all, he has to have an intellectual foundation for what he believes in.  If camera boy doesn’t want to be civil, chuckle and invite him to your office sometime for coffee to talk further.

Option B: Grab his arm, bear hug him like you’re posing for a picture, and ask him who he is.  Gain internet fame.

Etheridge, who has obviously never heard the phrase, “Don’t lose your temper except on purpose,” chose B.  He chose poorly.

The fallout could go beyond Etheridge’s own district, too.  The video offers another example of Congressional egotism and entitlement.  News media outlets like to talk about an anti-incumbent sentiment among the electorate, but that can’t exist without folks like Congressman Etheridge stoking the flame.

Fearless Forecast for Arkansas

Picking the winners in most of today’s primary contests is easy, according to the polls.  Much more interesting, though, is reading the tea leaves and trying to gauge what the results mean – specifically in Arkansas.

As mentioned after the Democrat primary was sent to a runoff weeks ago, Bill Halter’s challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln is not about her standing with Arkansas’s non-existent liberal base.  It does reflect that many Arkansans feel disenchanted, and the word on the street is that this malaise will bring Halter to victory.

Lincoln has tried to fight back by painting Halter as the puppet of national left-wing interests, working through the most famous Arkansas politician in history:

Bill Clinton, a Lincoln supporter, has gotten in on the act as well, appearing at a Little Rock rally last week and now in a television commercial in which he decries the influence of national unions on the race. “This is about using you and manipulating your votes,” the former president says. “If you want to be Arkansas’ advocate, vote for somebody who will fight for you.”

Clinton then got on a plane and flew back to either New York or Washington D.C., the two places he has lived for the past 17 years since he was elected President and his wife was elected as a Senator from a state that is not Arkansas.

But despite the idea that Halter is “too liberal” for Arkansas, that could dramatically help Democrats’ chances of keeping this seat.

Halter isn’t campaigning to the left of Lincoln in state, but he does benefit from left-wing energy from out of state.  Much like Scott Brown’s insurgent campaign, Halter’s website allows anyone to chip in with GOTV phone callsDonations are still pouring in, too.  That won’t subside in the coming months, as liberal activists sense the chance to basically turn a seat from a squishy vote to a solid vote on their key issues.  If Halter can continue to enjoy the fruits of national energy without alienating Arkansas voters, he will be a much more formidable candidate than Lincoln – who, despite the advantage of incumbency, would not have enjoyed those benefits.

140-character sponsorships

Though they haven’t shown up quite yet, the phrase of the day is “sponsored tweets” – Twitter’s long-overdue way to make money off its product. (When you hear anyone say “sponsored tweets,” scream real loud!)

I’ve searched a few terms that seemed like good candidates for these ads to show up but haven’t seen a sponsored tweet yet – which may be the first time anyone has ever wanted to see advertising but couldn’t find it.

Sponsored tweets do offer a new political tactic in advance of the 2010 elections.  Candidates have been using Google ads to frame themselves and their opponents for years, and 2010 will be no exception.  Search engine and Facebook ads, though, are closer to traditional advertising: you see creative (text or a picture), and if it’s interesting enough you take some sort of action.  Clicking on an online ad is a more instant (and measurable) reaction that buying something after seeing a television commercial, but the concept is the same.

Twitter ads appear to be more message advertising – so the “creative” may not even come directly from the ad sponsor.  Lets say you’re working for Republican Keith Fimian, running against Rep. Gerald Connolly to represent Virginia’s lovely 10th district (which includes this blog).  If someone searches for Connolly on Twitter, you might sponsor a tweet from a voter or activist – rather than from the official Fimian campaign Twitter account – that calls on Connolly to get heaved out of office.

This strategy has been tested somewhat with Google ads, but mostly as a joke – searching for John McCain, for instance, might bring up sponsored links for the AARP.   But Twitter ads give brands – political or corporate – a chance to use third party voices to frame search results.  No doubt this will become as much art as science as the 2010 elections approach.