THE BLOG

High Tech Republicans In Your Pocket

Sep 24, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

In 2008, there was a stark difference between Democratic and Republican technological aptitude, most forcibly represented when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) admitted he didn't know how to use email, and President-elect Barack Obama's struggled to give up his treasured BlackBerry.

Flash forward to 2010 and Republicans are determined to make it seem like they're completely up-to-date.

Iowa Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad just launched his latest ads titled "An app for that" which shows Branstad scrolling through attacks on Iowa's Gov. Chet Culver on an iPad. But the campaign actually does have an "app for that."

Tim Albrecht, communications director of Branstad's campaign, said they launched an Android application this week, but plan to roll out iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry apps very soon as well.

"Those are going to be a voter tool where they can go and click on the screen and get the most updated information on the campaign, ways they can help, volunteer opportunities, get out the vote opportunities, and of course the donate button," said Albrecht.

Branstad is not the only politician releasing an app. Sam Brownback of Kansas was the first gubernatorial candidate to unveil a personal campaign app this year.

In Minnesota, Rep. Michelle Bachman unveiled an iPhone in September. In Florida, both Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist have their own apps.

Steffen Schmidt, University Professor in political science at Iowa State University, said it's an attempt by candidates to try every avenue to get in touch with the electorate.

"Whether in the end it'll be effective or not, we have to wait and see how this all washes out," said Schmidt. "On the other hand you can't take a chance and not, if you have the resources, and not try every you can because a lot of elections are so tight."

But some candidates had trouble getting their smartphone applications off the ground, like when Republican Ari David, who was running to challenge Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif), was denied by Apple in May. Under Apple's App Store policy, an app cannot contain "defamatory content" or in other words, attack one's political opponent.

Apple is no stranger to denying political applications for the same reason, but many of those were done by political cartoonists.

Aside from the smartphone apps, politicians are focusing more on tweeting, like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) whose gave a lesson on it in his ad "Twitter."

"The Republicans were actually kind of late coming to this," said Schmidt. "Steve Forbes tried to do some of that but his candidacy for the Iowa caucuses kind of petered out real quickly so it never went anywhere. But now I think that is something that's going to be layered on top of everything else."

Elsewhere on the internet Sarah Palin has effectively shunned the media and instead chose to make statements on Facebook and Twitter, and a RNC member from Iowa caused controversy when she tweeted President Obama is a Muslim.

Schmidt said he's not surprised of these developments because candidates need to "mine" voters wherever they are although there is the risk of annoyance if pols over-saturate voters in media with these "gimmicks."

"I think the theory is if I'm cool, I'm tweeting, younger voters may be more likely to vote for me," said Schmidt.

Obama was the first candidate to have a mobile app, however, the Schmidt faults Democrats for not keeping the enthusiasm going for their part online like they did in 2008.

"Obama made it worth their time," said Schmidt. "He provided techniques where voters could interact with each other by participating with him."

Schmidt said getting voters to mobilize in crowds typically provides more results than individual attempts.

"I don't see Obama or the Democrats doing anything to keep that crowd mentality group activity going," Schmidt added. "Everybody's wondering where are all those magic mailing lists and email lists, Facebook, Twitter campaigns--where are they now?"