GOP Presidential Contenders Beefing Up Online Tools For 2012 Battle

During last year’s midterm elections, Republicans caught up with Democrats in using technology and social networks, and now many Republicans elected to the House and Senate are using these tools more than Democrats, according to several political and technology experts.

“This will be the first election in modern history that both parties are understanding the potential of the technology to change the results of the election,” said Andrew Rasiej, a co-founder of TechPresident.com, a blog that covers politics and technology, and a digital adviser to Democrats since Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004. “Both Republicans and Democrats are ready to use online platforms and are no longer skeptical of its potential.”

What Republicans recognized after Senator John McCain’s bruising defeat in 2008 is that Mr. Obama’s digital strategy was deeply integrated into his real-world campaign. Mr. Obama’s team used its Web site, e-mails and text messages to do more than broadcast his campaign message. The tools made it easier for people to donate online, to volunteer for the field operation, particularly in caucus states, and to assume responsibility for other aspects of the campaign, like assembling groups of neighbors for a chat and creating the Obama ’08 iPhone app.

“You learn more from losing than winning sometimes,” said Matt Lira, who worked on the digital team for Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign and who is now director of new media for Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican majority leader.

Mr. Lira said that House Republicans, meeting in January 2009, made a commitment to get into the digital game and moved aggressively during last year’s midterm elections to sign up members and potential candidates on Twitter and Facebook.

None of the Republican or Democratic digital strategists are claiming that social media, mobile and other digital tools alone will win a campaign. While Facebook and other social media channels will undoubtedly be powerful tools for presidential contenders in 2012, voters can still expect a barrage of traditional television campaign advertising and direct mail.

Republican presidential contenders still face a formidable online foe in Mr. Obama. He announced his re-election campaign this month with an e-mail and text message blast, posts on Twitter, a short video on YouTube and a new app that connects supporters and their Facebook friends to his campaign Web site with a question, “Are you in?”

Read more from Jennifer Preston at The New York Times

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