Maybe we shouldn’t be better than this?

The internet’s favorite candidate for public office right now isn’t Rand Paul, Joe Sestak, or Bill Halter.  He isn’t running for Congress, governor, the Senate, or even President.  But he is anti-establishment, railing against the “thugs and criminals” in power.  His name is Dale Peterson, and he’s running for the Alabama Agricultural Commission:

Peterson’s over-the-top honesty and evident frustration with politics as  usual might be attracting tongue-in-cheek derision from some bloggers and pundits, but he isn’t running to be on the National Press Club’s Agricultural Commission.  Lost in the yuks is the fact that Peterson, likely for very little money, now has an advertisement getting attention from all sorts of media outlets.  And though the white cowboy hat and the gun may seem over the top, his message really isn’t.  Did you know that the Alabama Agricultural Commission has $5 million to play with?  Heck, I don’t even know how much Virginia’s Agricultural Commission has to play with.

The exposure puts Peterson in front of in-state voters – and potentially out-of-state donors – who identify with his message, and who kind of like his style.

At least there’s no demon sheep.

How do you like that? Facebook and microtargeting

This was a big week for Facebook, which stepped up its presence in the battle with Google to control the internet on computers.  (This is slightly different from the battle to control the internet through your phone or the internet through your TV or the battle control the internet through the cord surgically affixed to your brain stem.)

By spreading tentacles throughout the web, Facebook will latch your profile more closely to your online activity.  Sure, it’s a little creepy, but it’s also voluntary; no one has to have a Facebook account after all.

Setting aside privacy concerns, this is a really big [BIDEN] deal in a year when political insurgency is all the rage (no pun intended).  In a great post at TechRepublican, Jordan Raynor outlines how establishment political support (such as Florida Governor Charlie Crist enjoyed a few months ago) can be trumped by a campaign which connects directly with supporters and leverages that energy to create its own momentum.

Facebook is going to become a better and better place to do that – providing in 2010 and 2012 what the concept of microtargeting was in 2002 and 2004.  In those years, Republicans used consumer data to identify potential supporters – if you shop at a certain place and subscribe to certain magazines, for instance, you might fit a profile of a Republican voter.

Now, you can profile your supporters (who may or may not belong to your party) and directly serve them online ads.  The possibilities are pretty exciting – unless you’re sick of political ads.

You will be.  You will be.

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.

A very maverick-y negative ad

That John McCain, two years after being his party’s standard-bearer, is fighting for his political life in a primary against talk show host J.D. Hayworth is telling of how urgently many GOP activists want a cathartic cleansing of Republicans of recent vintage.  However, an online video released by the McCain camp makes an argument that the conservative movement needs effective messengers as much as effective messages.

The message is subtle even if the delivery is not: the GOP has a message problem that goes beyond government policy, and the elevation of a voice like Hayworth’s would add to the stereotype.   One would assume that McCain’s campaign has internal poling numbers which show this is a strong field for them to play on, and that Republican primary voters are vulnerable to fears that Hayworth will be perceived as a joke.

The McCain folks are certainly careful to tread cautiously to avoid offending activists – they use extreme-sounding quotes from Hayworth, but on selective issues.  For instance, the video doesn’t take a stand on gay marriage, but it does quote Hayworth’s hyperbolic comparison of gay marriage to bestiality.  This is followed by Hayworth overreacting to an off-hand comment from a political opponent who promised to metaphorically drive a stake through Hayworth’s heart – echoing the over-the-top rhetoric of some Democrats after the recent health care debate.

With this video, McCain tries to tell conservatives that Hayworth is simply not strong enough to carry their flag.  It’s a pretty sophisticated message – and a good one for McCain to deliver, given his at-times-contentious relationship with conservative activists. And the video is funny, which always helps.

McCain does make one mistake in the presentation of his case that’s worth a chuckle or two.  A quick glance of the official John McCain YouTube channel offers potential for misunderstanding; the thumbnail for the video happens to be the screen frame reading “Expose Obama’s Secret Kenyan Birthplace” – and it looks more like a campaign promise than a joke.