Burying the lede: Whitman’s tech strategy

Catching up on some news from this weekend… From the San Jose Mercury News (via TechRepublican): “Whitman campaign counting on tech to fidht Democrats’ boots on the ground.”  The article mostly recounts Meg Whitman’s advantage in technology spending and notes that Jerry Brown’s strategy relies heavily on union organizers making “workplace visits.”  (No word on whether those visits involve lead pipes or any other aggressive GOTV strategies.)

The headline and lede make it sound like Whitman is simply spending money, but the details show a bit more refined strategy than that:

Whitman has also made use of increasingly sophisticated database technology to “micro-target” voters through an aggressive mail program. First made popular by GOP strategist Karl Rove in the 2004 presidential election, micro-targeting goes far beyond using bare-bones demographic information such as age and income. Voters get targeted mailers and phone calls based on the kind of cars they drive, food they eat and magazines they buy.

During the primary campaign, many Whitman volunteers eschewed traditional “boiler rooms” and joined online phone banks so they could dial for dollars in their pajamas — or ask voters for their support and record information on them while sitting on a beach with their BlackBerrys.

The technology expenditures appear to be put toward the purpose of making GOTV tactics – like phone calls and mailings – more efficient and easier for volunteers.  And, the article points out that the union goons are doing the same thing – identifying non-union “red county” voters who share their outlook on political issues and reaching out to them.

Tellingly, the missing link here is the Brown campaign, and the article quotes Brown himself calling Whitman’s $2.7 million in online spending wasteful.  The reality, though, is that any campaign tactic costs money.  The fabled 2008 Obama  campaign – still the most prominent example of online organizing – outspent the McCain campaign online, making wise early investments.  The technology didn’t create excitement, but it gave the campaign a way to harness it and translate it into votes.

The article likens Brown’s website to the 1974 Plymouth that Brown used to drive around to demonstrate his working class street cred.  The comparison is apt if Brown really thinks there is a dichotomy between online organizing and “boots on the ground.”  A car made in 1974 and a car made in 2010 both operate basically the same way, but the 2010 model has newer, more effective parts that allow it to perform more efficiently.

Maybe he could take some of that Matlock money and apply it to his site?

Whitman campaign counting on tech to fight Democrats’ boots on the ground

Compliment FAIL

FAIL Blog is upset.  A Meg Whitman campaign web video about Jerry Brown’s decades of political failure uses an image of their website.  The Cheezburger Network, the company that runs the FAIL Blog and other similar successful but vapid sites, has asked for an apology and for the video to be removed.

Here’s the video:

The FAIL Blog image, like the YouTube image, is a stylistic inclusion to frame the points.  But what FAIL Blog fails to understand is just how much of a compliment their inclusion is.  The video doesn’t use the image of FAIL Blog as an endorsement, but as an illustration of the depth of Brown’s incompetence.  The video’s point is that Brown is so inept, he belongs on FAIL Blog.

Usually, being synonymous with failure is a bad thing.  Ask the folks behind the Hindenburg, the Edsel,New Coke, Pepsi Clear, the DC Metro, and Jimmy Carter.  FAIL Blog should probably be embracing this.  Privately, they may very well be, if they’re smart.  But it makes for a bigger story if they complain that Whitman has somehow wronged them.  After all, we probably wouldn’t be talking about them if they didn’t pipe up.

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)?

The only thing worse would be working for BP

Chris Kelly’s former job probably seemed like an asset when he jumped into the race for California Attorney General – in a state so closely identified with technological innovation, he was one of the executive leaders of Facebook.

The problem for Kelly now is that his title was Chief Privacy Officer.  Having that position for Facebook is kind of like being a nutritionist for KFC – it doesn’t come with much credibility.

How bad is it?  Not only is Kelly’s opponent using his association with Facebook against him in a television ad, but in that same ad she’s actually bragging about being endorsed by Nancy Pelosi.

The irony, of course, comes in the picture of Pelosi used in the endorsement, which looks to be a few years old and looks nothing like she does now.

In other words, it’s a typical Facebook picture.

The next next generation of phone banking

It’s been a good week for Carly Fiorina’s campaign.  Buried underneath news of the controversy Sarah Palin stepped in by endorsing Fiorina, is the adoption yesterday of a pretty cool technology by the Campaign to unseat Boxer.  The platform, created by RealGood Technologies, plugs any mobile phone with text message capabilities into a candidate’s GOTV effort.

In January, Scott Brown’s campaign successfully used an internet-based phone bank from anywhere function to rally supporters from across the country; a Senate seat in California would be an equally significant pickup for Republicans.  If Fiorina goes on to win the Republican Primary and takes out Sen. Boxer, this tactic will be held up as one of the big Republican success stories of 2010.

Bringing the politics to you

Minnesota Governor/2012 Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is holding a  town hall meeting tomorrow.  Last night, California Senate candidate Chuck DeVore held a fundraiser with Andrew Breitbart.

You can go to either of these events without being in Minnesota or California – both will be online.  (Though, if you want to attend the DeVore event, you’re going to have to also find a way to channel 1.21 gigawatts into the flux capacitor, which may cost more than the $50 minimum donation.)

In Pawlenty’s case, the two-term governor is attempting to build a national base in advance of his 2012 run for the White House.  For people nosing around and still feeling out the contenders, it’s a low barrier of entry.   With the first primaries still more than 20 months away, Pawlenty wisely doesn’t want to burn out his activists; at the same time he wants to start building a list of engaged supporters.  Some of his likely primary opponents (like Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and maybe Sarah Palin) already have exposure and campaign infrastructure from 2008.  The town hall could help Pawlenty catch up and – maybe even more important – allows him to build the perception of his candidacy being more firmly rooted in ideas than personality.

DeVore is trying to broaden his base, too – and continue extending his brand as one of the leaders among Republicans in the use of online tactics.  Thus far in the primary, DeVore has been the Martin Short of the Three Amigos running for the Republican nomination.  (If you’re wondering, Steve Martin was the best Amigo, followed closely by Chevy Chase.  Barbara Boxer is already El Guapo.)  The virtual pizza party may not put him on the Republican ticket to face Boxer in 2010, but it’s a good idea – one that could help other Republicans in 2010 or even DeVore himself in a future race.  After all, winning campaigns aren’t the only ones with good ideas.

Carly’s Boxer Blimp

The Carly Fiorina campaign has released a follow-up to their much-lampooned “Demon Sheep” web video.  In this one, Barbara Boxer turns into a giant blimp because she’s full of hot air.  (Getcha popcorn ready, because it’s almost eight minutes long.)

Despite the ribbing from Fiorina’s primary opponents, ad maker Fred Davis claimed victory for the viral hit, pointing to its high number of YouTube views.  Davis might have a point.  The funny part of the Demon Sheep video – the campily costumed and Keds-clad sheep – came at the end, after the video had railed on fellow Republican candidate Tom Campbell’s fiscal street cred.  The Boxer Blimp wouldn’t attract nearly as much attention if it hadn’t been for its fluffy forefather.

Still, the video is as unfocused as it is comical and over the top.  The message shifts from the Senator being arrogant to incompetent to out of touch, and discusses taxes, environmental policy, financial restraint, national security, and Boxer’s personality with clumsy or non-existent segues.  The imagery is often uneven; at one point, the announcer accuses Boxer of being progressively “less and less effective” during her Senate tenure just as her image is smashing through the Capitol dome.

It does, however, tell a good story about Carly Fiorina – but unlike the Demon Sheep, the story comes after the CGI blimp attack.

But regardless of what anyone thinks of the style of the ads or how many viewers they attract, the one measure of effectiveness is at the polls.  That’s an area where Fiorina still lags behind.

(By the way, if you look closely, I’m pretty sure the shots of San Francisco include Alamo Square – more notably known as “Full House Hill” for its inclusion in the opening credits of the legendary and classic sitcom.)

Hunting Demon Sheep

The Chuck DeVore for Senate campaign has declared open season on Demon Sheep.  Visitors to demonsheep.org can squish, shear, crisp, or mock the ill-conceived star of a Carly Fiorina campaign video:

Aside from being a fun concept, the microsite does all the right things – it lets users share their demon sheep hunting with friends, and hits hunters up for small donations.

The original “Demon Sheep” web video was designed to distinguish Fiorina from GOP primary opponent Tom Campbell – casting Campbell as a FCINO, or “Fiscal Conservative in Name Only.”  The campy quasi-religious imagery a low-budget sheep costume that looks like it was a pilfered sample from a carpet store made for internet mockery.  But it also made for viral viewing, giving an audience for the negative points the video makes about Campbell.

Though the Demon Sheep video doesn’t mention DeVore, he’s doing his best to capitalize – and as Matt Lewis and I discussed weeks ago, DeVore’s campaign stands to gain the most if Fiorina and Campbell descend into a harshly negative campaign that damages both.

This effort can be successful in targeting conservative activists nationwide for support and donations.  The drawback for the DeVore folks is timing.  Demon Sheep is a month old, and while bizarre, the opportunity to latch onto the initial wave of coverage has long passed.

Fiscal conservatives are sheep. Some are demon sheep.

Carly Fiorina’s Senate campaign gets points for creativity – releasing a web video to make a detailed case against her primary opponent, Tom Campbell, that just couldn’t be made in a thirty second ad.  But whoever cut and approved this ad has done more harm than good:

Likening conservative primary voters to sheep is a bad idea on its own, but Fiorina’s folks take it a step farther with the “demon sheep” at the very end.  It’s funny, but in a so-bad-it’s-funny kind of way, which is a bad thing for a political ad in a charged primary.

Sure enough, the parodies have begun almost instantly, and they have been thorough.  You can follow the Demon Sheep on Twitter (@DemonSheep) and ask questions of the unholy beast.  Campbell is using the ad as fund raising fodder, and it has likely helped his name recognition among prospective non-California donors.

More important, the ad – and not the message the ad was trying to convey – is the subject of discussion and media coverage, some of it quite tongue-in-cheek.

Other than politicians, does ANYONE vote?

As the Post’s Chris Cillizza notes in his coverage of the California Republican primary, Meg Whitman is a non-voter.  Join the club.

It is somewhat amazing that a political outsider, such as Whitman, can’t easily and fearlessly answer for a lack of showing up at the polls.  Instead, stuck behind the concept that it isn’t ok to skip an election, she called the voting records errors and told reporters to “go find” the proof of her claim.

But not voting is not a crime – in fact, it’s a fairly regular occurrence for many and an honest response could have spoken to those who feel disillusioned with government.  “I didn’t vote because I didn’t feel like there was a reason to,” she could have said.  “Like many Californians, I felt left behind by politics as usual.  Finally I decided, enough is enough – I can’t sit by and let the career politicians hijack the government that’s supposed to represent me.”

And she could go on – the first draft writes itself.

This strategy does have a major flaw: owning up to being a non-voter may help a candidate appeal to a large demographic, but they are precious little help in elections… after all, they don’t vote.