Tweeting the Tea Party tidal wave

A few years ago, Democrats were the tech-savvy candidates while their Republican rivals seemed like cyber Luddites. But this year, the Republicans – and especially the Tea Party candidates – played the game of catch-up fast and hard.


Back in 2008, when he ran for president, Barack Obama’s spectacularly wired campaign made headlines across the world when his team of cyber-savvy supporters wielded an innovative arsenal of social networking sites.

Just two years later, online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have turned into an intrinsic part of mainstream campaigning. It’s not news anymore.

But the 2010 midterm elections race saw a radical new phenomenon in the world of US online political campaigning, one that has not gone unnoticed in cyber political circles.

Historically, the Democrats have always been ahead of the online political curve.

The Tea Party: New Kids on the Cyber Block

Back in 2004, it was Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean who pioneered techniques of online political campaigning, using a loyal band of online volunteers – dubbed “Deaniacs” – who mobilized young voters on the Web.

In sharp contrast, the Republicans were woefully lagging behind the cyber campaign trail.

During the 2008 presidential race, Sen. John McCain, for instance, admitted he was ignorant when it came to the Internet. In the 1996 race, Republican Bob Dole famously gave out an incorrect address for his campaign website.

What a difference a few years make.

The 2010 midterm elections have seen Republicans not only catching up, but superseding their Democratic rivals.

‘Copycat, derivative campaigns’

A report from the non-partisan showed Republicans more engaged online than Democrats during the 2010 campaign season.

As of September 21, Republican Senate candidates had more than 1.4 million friends on Facebook and over 500,000 followers on Twitter.

In contrast, Democratic Senate candidates had roughly 300,000 friends on Facebook and around 90,000 followers on Twitter.

In a report paper published this month, Joe Raspars, who served as New Media Director for Obama’s presidential campaign, described the recent Democratic showing online as “copycat, derivative campaigns”.

Tea Party Twitter traffickers

Among Republicans, the most active online campaigners this season were invariably the Tea Party favourites.

In his victory speech early Tuesday night, Kentucky Senate seat-winner Rand Paul predicted that election night would see a “Tea Party tidal wave”.

That certainly seemed to be the case on Twitter.

The New York Times Twitter tracker, which offers a visualization of candidate Twitter traffic from Oct. 21, shows Republicans dominating the Twitter-sphere. Among them, the heavy Twitter-hitters on Tuesday night were Tea Party favourites such as Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell and Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller.

It must be noted that the controversial “I am not a witch, I am you” O’Donnell lost the race to Democratic rival Christopher Coons. Proof, for some, that social networking sites may help circulate the message, but that the medium is not the message.

Another Tea Party heavy-hitter to get burned in the polls Tuesday night was Nevada’s Sharron Angle, who fought a bitter campaign – online and off – against Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid, only to lose.

Angle’s defeat came after a night of increasingly desperate tweets by the candidate. “15 minutes left – get on the phone & make last-minute calls urging Nevadans to get to the polls!” she pleaded in her last tweet before she lost to the Tea Party’s favourite whipping boy.

In the end, the biggest winner of the night was former Alaskan governor and de facto Tea Party fairy godmother Sarah Palin. Her favoured “Mama Grizzlies” won big Tuesday night. Susana Martinez, a Palin favourite, won the New Mexico gubernatorial race to become the first female governor of the state.

In quintessential Palin fashion, the former Alaska governor stayed defiant until the end of a long night. “Very clear message to Pres. Obama: we’ll send our representatives to DC to stop your fundamental transformation of America. Enough is enough,” she tweeted.

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