Social Media and the GOP U.S. Senate Candidates

The Republicans use of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube fluctuates from campaign to campaign in the battle for retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in Washington.

Sharing information and interacting with potential voters on these sites has become an inexpensive supplement to the air wars on television and radio and a more efficient engagement tool than retail politics.

Former Solicitor General Ted Cruz has put the most effort into his online campaign, aggregating more than 94,665 combined followers on Facebook and Twitter. Cruz announced his candidacy in January 2011 exclusively online, said Cruz spokesman James Bernsen, and the third person hired to the campaign was a new media director.

“Online engagement and social media are very important in terms of mobilizing our supporters, generating grassroots enthusiasm, fundraising, and communicating key campaign messages,” Bernsen said. “While they don’t replace the traditional get-out-the-vote efforts, they do allow the campaign to maximize interaction with voters.”

Bernsen said the role of social media is amplified in a statewide election in a region as large as Texas.

Besides Cruz, the rest of the field has not placed as much emphasis on a social media presence…..About 50 percent of Texans use Facebook and five percent use Twitter, said Vincent Harris, former Digital Director for Gov. Rick Perry’s failed presidential bid, who now consults for Newt Gingrich and Cruz.

At the end of the day, the deciding factor in an election is votes. Some experts say a strong social media presence does not always translate to a large number of votes.

Matt Glazer, executive director for Progress Texas, pointed to the 2010 gubernatorial election in which former Houston Mayor Bill White lost to Gov. Rick Perry although White had a larger social media presence than his opponent.

Harris said raw numbers do not tell the entire story. Interactions with followers is the most important aspect of social media campaigning, he said.

In comparison, Perry has a total of 138,394 followers on Twitter and 180,230 ‘likes’ on Facebook.

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