Vincent Harris Quoted on 2016 Hopefuls’ Digital Strategy
April 1, 2015
By Miranda Green
Back-to-back presidential losses have the GOP rethinking how to run campaigns and the technology field is the first place the party’s looking to for a facelift. After fighting to shake the notion that their party is out of touch, two of the GOP’s promising White House contenders are now battling to prove their technology chops.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has positioned himself toward youth and Silicon Valley types while Texas Senator Ted Cruz plays up his mother’s career as a computer programmer. To have a chance at the White House in 2016, both hopefuls understand that courting the Internet crowd means more than just having an active Twitter account.
“They need to win the culture,” said Clay Johnson, co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed President Obama’s successful 2008 online campaign, and now CEO of The Department of Better Technology.
“You win that by being savvy on the Internet, by being able to raise money on the Internet, by viral videos being invested and by being cool.”
“I think the strategy in their head is that if we win the Internet early on, ‘I can be the Obama of this primary election and I can be the unstoppable candidate,’” Johnson added.
Winning big online can also mean winning big with campaign donations, according to Vincent Harris, chief digital strategist for Rand Paul’s 2016 team and a former digital operative for Ted Cruz.
“Republicans who are used to raising money on Wall Street and wherever else, they are going to be finding that using the Internet and banding together repeat $10 donations and selling products like t-shirts is going to be another very effective way to not only raise money, but to keep people engaged,” Harris said.
After Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, the GOP released an autopsy report of what went wrong in the campaign. Topping the list was the need to better use technology.
“Republicans must catch up on how we utilize technology in our campaigns. The Obama team is several years ahead of everyone else in its technological advantage,” read the report.
It’s clear that Cruz and Paul both got the message, as they have wasted little time in distancing themselves from their party’s past presidential campaign follies and establishing a long-term digital strategy.
“I think that technology has finally gotten to the place in Republican politics that people are shamed if they aren’t running a good digital operation,” said Harris. “And I’m glad we have finally gotten to that place because it’s taken a decade.”
By studying President Obama’s successful digital campaign, Republican hopefuls have learned that a winning campaign can be financed through grass roots advocacy and establishing a database of donor information, potential voters and volunteers willing to provide on-the ground support.
So far, Cruz has been the first to clearly employ those techniques. During his formal campaign announcement at Liberty University, Cruz asked the audience to text the word “constitution” to his campaign.
“That shows that he’s not only technologically savvy, but it allows him to almost immediately collect a significant database of possible contributors and supporters,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, political analyst at the University of Southern California. “That’s the kind of thing that new media is allowing candidates to do.”
But Republicans need to do more, according to Harris. The new digital-driven world now allows campaigns to target users on a range of platforms and devices and candidates need to be on all of them.
“Campaigns are going to have to create content that is specific for mobile, content that is specific for Facebook, content that is specific for Twitter, for TrueView advertisements on Google,” he said. “Previously you would just take your 30 second television ad and you put it everywhere and you put the TV on the Internet, but that’s not going to happen in 2016.”
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