Houston Chronicle: Vincent Harris quoted on Patrick campaign
October 31, 2014, 10:15 PM
By Brian M. Rosenthal and David Saleh Rauf
When Dan Patrick visited the Rio Grande Valley at the height of the child migrant crisis last summer, he made sure to take advantage politically – in his own way.
The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor did not hold any news conferences or give any interviews. Instead, he posted a dozen photos and a 3,000-word missive on Facebook and then turned footage from the trip into a video that ran online for weeks.
“We have our own media outlet,” he later boasted to the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. “It’s called my Facebook page.”
Patrick, the Houston state senator who is expected to win next week’s election and become one of the most powerful lawmakers in Texas, has put an unprecedented focus on digital in his campaign.
He has deployed online ads so targeted that a consultant said anybody who visited the campaign website in 2014 and watched any YouTube video in late October first saw a personal message about the importance of voting early.
He has used a website full of cat GIFs to attack his top rival.
And the conservative radio show host has coupled his media savvy with the powers of Facebook, Twitter and other social media unlike any candidate in this election to create his own online megaphone – one he has wielded to coalesce a tea-party base and subvert traditional media in the process.
Patrick’s campaign has spent about $830,000 on digital consulting and advertising, according to campaign filings. That accounts for about 7.5 percent of the roughly $11 million the campaign has spent on advertising – much more than digital political advertising’s national average of 3.5 percent, according to a recent report by Borrell Associates, a Virginia-based research firm.
Most of Patrick’s television spots aired during a contentious primary against incumbent David Dewhurst and two other hopefuls. In a solidly red state, he has not had to do much TV advertising in the general election.
Still, CEO Gordon Borrell said the entire country is watching Patrick’s campaign.
“What he’s doing simply hasn’t been done before,” he said, noting that $270 million will be spent on digital political advertising this year, 20 times more than in the last midterm election, but the medium still is not favored by all. “It’s going to be studied by a lot of people who believe the future for political advertising is in digital because it just hasn’t been done yet.”
The strategy stands in contrast to that of Patrick’s Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte, who has maintained a comparatively low online profile and, like most candidates, has focused her resources almost entirely on television advertising.
Van de Putte spokesman Manny Garcia said Patrick’s strategy includes less genuine engagement and fewer media interviews.
“You have more accountability when you’re talking to a reporter, and it’s a shame that Dan Patrick has decided that he doesn’t believe in his values enough to talk about them,” Garcia said. “It’s disrespectful to voters.”
Here are a few of the selfies that state Sen. Dan Patrick, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, has taken at campaign events and has posted on Facebook.
Patrick’s digital consultant, Vincent Harris, said the strategy allows him to communicate with voters more directly and quickly.
“He can do it without needing to go through the media as a filter or without having to wait for a TV shoot,” said Harris, who masterminded Ted Cruz’s digital strategy during his U.S. Senate campaign and now is a coveted consultant.
Patrick early in the cycle recruited the wunderkind, then 25, and cemented a deal over dinner at a downtown Austin steakhouse, Harris said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that he cares about Facebook and social media more than any other client I’ve ever worked with,” said Harris, who now works for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, among others.
Focus on Facebook page
Early on, Harris said, he focused mainly on building Patrick’s Facebook page to reach like-minded conservatives on such issues as border security and property taxes. Social media also became the campaign’s preferred avenue for responding to attacks.
Harris said the candidate really bought in a few months into the campaign after he launched “Dewfeed,” a website designed to mimic Buzzfeed and dedicated to trashing Dewhurst’s handling of Wendy Davis’ abortion filibuster through the use of short repeating cat video clips known as GIFs.
Patrick topped Dewhurst in this March’s primary and beat him in the May runoff.
The campaign has paid Harris’s firm about $171,500 for his services and spent $286,000 on Google and YouTube advertising.
However, Patrick has put the most money into his favorite platform: Facebook.
He has spent $322,000 on Facebook ads and promoted posts. At nearly each recent campaign stop, he has snapped a selfie and posted it, usually drawing hundreds or thousands of likes and comments.
There have been some flubs – including when a campaign intern posted on Twitter that the staunchly conservative candidate believes marriage is between “ONE MAN & ONE MAN” – but unaffiliated consultants from both parties said Patrick has been better at using the Internet than almost anyone.
“Dan Patrick has proven, whether you agree with him or not, that he is really, really good at talking to his audience,” said Jeff Rotkoff, who works for Democratic megadonors Steve and Amber Mostyn.
GOP consultant Ted Delisi said Patrick’s persona as a radio host translates particularly well online, but other candidates probably will follow suit. “Dan has tried to take his radio show and put it online. From his keyboard to your screen, his is the way of the future,” Delisi said.