The digital campaign
|Local political candidates are lining up their media strategies—including a strong online presence.|
When California's “Governor Moonbeam” Jerry Brown of the 1970s defeated former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and her record-shattering $140 million in personal campaign expenses with a social-networking onslaught for state governor in 2010, Anthony “Buddy” Amoroso took note of the political watershed moment.
The co-owner of Prime Properties recognized Brown's online tour de force as a potential political strategy for small government. So after announcing his candidacy for District 8 of the Baton Rouge Metro Council in mid-January, Amoroso beefed up his Facebook profile, got a Twitter handle and plastered his campaign message and background on Buddy2012.com.
Also after the Brown win in California, Amoroso, 55, nudged his good friend and District 8 Councilman Mike Walker into ramping up his own online media blitz.
“I think I was the one who kind of exposed Mike to the idea that Facebook is a very powerful tool to use,” says Amoroso, adding that Walker took the flag of online self-promotion and ran with it.
Now the mayor pro tem and challenger to Mayor Kip Holden's seat has a broad and growing social media campaign. By the end of May, Walker was even attracting 695 followers on Twitter.
By comparison, Amoroso had 24 followers, to whom he last sent a tweet with a picture on April 14: the view from his seat at Alex Box Stadium.
“I have a hard time expressing myself in 140 characters,” laments the first-time Metro Council candidate about the Twitter medium.
Meanwhile, Walker had sent 3,125 tweets—many of them council-vote updates going back to 2010—by the end of last month.
“Social media is about his open-door policy,” says Walker's campaign manager, Chris Boudreaux. “It gives him an opportunity to connect with people in a real way.”
Walker has got bigger traction on Facebook. There, Boudreaux says, the mayoral candidate got a “sizable bump” in followers after announcing his candidacy Feb. 15.
And then there's mikewalker.net.
“I would say most of our traffic comes through the website,” Boudreaux says. “Mike has had a Web presence for a very long time.”
So has Mayor Kip Holden. With a Facebook presence since the 2008 campaign, the third-term candidate is polishing a new website at kipholden.com. Nearly half of it was still “under construction” at the end of May, but Marmillion/Gray Media, his campaign manager, said the mayor was still hammering out this year's strategy.
“I think that he'll start in June really laying out his campaign,” says Rannah Gray of Marmillion/Gray, noting voters don't usually turn their attention to politics until Labor Day. The website “will be populated with a lot more content as the campaign ramps up.”
Gray also notes that YouTube has been a regular campaign platform for Holden. The mayor began using the video-sharing service in 2004 to broadcast highlights from informal campaign stops and feature 30-second commercials.
In fact, many of Holden's young supporters have used YouTube to spread the mayor's message.
“It's worked well, so I would envision we use that again,” Gray said.
Holden's team, meanwhile, is mulling whether he will venture onto Twitter.
Political newcomer and attorney John Delgado says he will officially announce his candidacy for the District 12 Metro Council seat on June 20. The proclamation will include distribution of yard signs and handouts of “push cards” that direct voters to his website and Facebook page.
For aesthetic reasons, the 37-year-old notes, his yard signs won't include an Internet address.
“The website will be well publicized,” Delgado says. “It will be on every mailer and push card.”
And the attorney is unsure about Twitter. Delgado points out not all of District 12's 23,000 registered voters are on Facebook, the world's largest social media site, much less one that is a fraction in size. But if he had to reach out to the city's entire electorate, Twitter would be justified.
“In the mayor's race, you have got to do all those things,” Delgado says of campaigning on social media. “It's just big enough to justify all of that.”
However, District 12 incumbent and George's restaurants owner Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois is doubtful that online campaigning carries any political cachet, adding that virtual posturing on the Internet is a “shallow” venture.
“I know the young people try and scare the old people with it,” says Bourgeois, an admittedly reluctant email user who gets his messages relayed by City Hall staff. “I don't Twitter; I've never even looked at Facebook. If that's what it takes, then I don't need to be here.”
In District 11, where Alison Gary is not seeking re-election, Ryan Heck has built a campaign website—ryanheck.com—and plans to utilize Facebook with its fan page feature.
Heck was mistaken, he says, to not include his website on the first round of campaign signs. But it will be there on the second distribution.
While Twitter remains on Heck's strategy board, he's unsure of using it to gain a mass following.
“My father doesn't tweet,” says the 34-year-old senior procurement specialist for Albemarle Corp.
For smaller campaign candidates, Delgado sums up the collective feeling that perhaps Twitter should be left to athletes and celebrities' ramblings: “In the end, is it just noise?”
In the past, mailers were prominent features of political campaigns. But Amoroso questions whether their effectiveness has been nullified in the era of instant communication. When a proposal to set up a new public school district in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish fell short of votes needed in the Louisiana House at the end of May, Amoroso says he reached out to voters who contacted him online and addressed their concerns.
“Between using the website and Facebook, it allows me to respond very quickly,” Amoroso says of social media.
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