Social Media Fuels Rapid-Fire Political Exchange Of Wills, Agendas, And Barbs

During Gov. Kasich's RNC speech, Cuyahoga Co. Executive Ed Fitzgerald mass-distributed a rebuttal via social media.
During Gov. Kasich's RNC speech, Cuyahoga Co. Executive Ed Fitzgerald mass-distributed a rebuttal via social media.
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Kasich’s speech fired up the party faithful in Tampa. He explained that when it came to fixing his state’s problems, he and legislators did what had to be done…including trimming the budget and “killing” the death tax.

“I told you a minute ago, that when we came into office, we were 48th in job creation. You know where we are today? We’re fourth in America in job creation, and number one in the Midwest!” he said to a cheering crowd.

Kasich went on to say how Mitt Romney would further help Americans everywhere. But the applause had barely faded when an electronic press release came from Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald, which included a nearly 5-minute audio statement refuting Kasich’s record…and that of the Massachusetts Governor.

"Mitt Romney famously said that we should let Detroit go bankrupt," says Fitzgerald. "And John Kasich called it throwing good money…at the bad.”

You’d think there were Democratic operatives with keyboard, mouse, and camera readied at the very second Kasich began. However, Jerid Kurtz, communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party says they actually began preparing several days before the speech. He says no one has probably spent more time listening to John Kasich’s speeches more than they have…which is why they readily anticipated what issues Kasich would bring up in his off-the-cuff presentation.

“That’s why every time he issued one of those half statements or mixed truths or lies, the Ohio Democratic Party reminded about his ineffective record,” says Kurtz.

Ignoring your opponent’s charges can be bad for a campaign. If you want to make a Democrat cringe, bring up John Kerry and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Some analysts say the group’s attack ad campaign against the Massachusetts Senator helped sink his 2004 presidential bid…helped in part by Kerry’s slow reaction time. But now political parties and candidates can refute accusations in record time, especially now with social media.

Chris Maloney, communications director for Ohio Romney for President, says the rapid-response media blitz is now a mainstay for politics.

“Not only due to technological advancement, but also the tightening of the news cycle. We live in a soundbite driven, media culture these days," explains Maloney. "So there’s always some very intense battles between presidential campaigns, US senate races, even on down to congressional races and state legislative races, about who’s going to control the messaging surrounding these events?”

One recent example came when President Obama made a campaign stop in Mansfield this summer. Just as his plane touched down, @RomneyResponse, tweeted: “Barack Obama is landing at this air base in Ohio today. His defense cuts threaten to close it.”…along with a link to a Tumblr page explaining the possibility of hundreds of people losing their jobs.

Republicans have become more media savvy after the 2008 campaign. While Barack Obama made heavy and effective use of social media, John McCain’s camp relied more on traditional TV, newspaper and radio ads….which also meant he wasn’t tapping into the younger, college-age crowd that surged to the polls for Obama.

“They’re the most media savvy generation out there,” says David Jackson, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Bowling Green State University who’s studied social media and politics.

Jackson says not only has social media driven political parties to ratchet up the number, frequency, and intensity of their statements, but it’s also made them do it sooner. A generation ago, most Americans didn’t really get into the campaigns until the national conventions. But now they’re being steered by campaigns well in advance.

Both the Obama and Romney campaigns began exchanging shots even while the Massachusetts governor was fending off rivals in winter 2011.

“In the past -- I guess you can say pre-Swift Boat --people would’ve thought spending money on that level of attack and character definition early on was a waste, but nobody thinks that now.”

But Jackson warns social media may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Just like campaign advertising, people can tire of the continuing bombardment of emails, Tweets, and Facebook updates…and develop new ways to filter them out…either mentally or with a push of the “delete” key.

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