Is social media—a low cost, high impact array of alternatives to mass media—the ultimate political equalizer, one that gives individuals and grass-roots organizers at least a fighting chance to affect public policy?
Politics is its own type of warfare, a battle of ideas and between personalities, one in which words are the munitions and an array of media options comprise the arsenal of weapons available in modern campaigning.
For decades, mass media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, and television have dominated the communications stratagem of large and medium-sized races, a fact that made every effort to win votes increasingly costly, tipping the balance of political privilege to those with the will to act and monetary means to amplify their actions.
In a column last Friday in The Washington Times, communications strategy consultant Anthony Welcher argues that the ability to understand the asymmetrical power of social media could make or break candidate aspirations in many close races this year, including the race for Washington State Governor between Republican candidate Rob McKenna and Democratic hopeful Jay Inslee.
Two-term Attorney General Rob McKenna is running for governor in Washington, a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the chief executive’s seat in more than 30 years. The Evergreen State is an ideal proving ground for an effective digital campaign strategy, as the state’s electorate is one of the most educated and most broadband-oriented in the nation. Starting with the campaign’s kickoff, Mr. McKenna deployed an engaging digital-media campaign that has disseminated his plans for Washington by actively engaging his base of support and its friends through social media. The result was surprising momentum early in the cycle, when campaigns generally founder in their attempts to gain public attention, as the media only covers candidate fundraising and early polling.
Why do we know his use of digital media is effective? For a solid blue state where President Obama still polls acceptably, Mr. McKenna built a lead in several polls that has increased recently to outside the margin of error. Earlier this year, the campaign received national attention when Campaigns and Elections magazine judged it to be the third-best campaign blog in the nation.
Welcher—whose career includes a 7-year stint serving in the Bush administration—is running this year to replace Jeff Kent as Washington’s national committeeman to the Republican National Committee; his campaign has focused on a theme of improving Washington State Republican’s relationship to the RNC and using communications technology to eliminate the information gap between grass-roots party activists and the leaders of the party.
The scramble by Kent and Welcher to woo the votes of county chair, vice chairs, and members of the State Executive Committee is very close, by some accounts, and issues of the Republican Party’s future will likely be a fulcrum of debate when the voting takes place later this week.
Washington State has missed out this year on receiving any early “Victory” dollars from the RNC, a pass-over that forces the WSRP to tap other resources for financing get out the vote efforts this November.
As Welcher wrote in a letter to Republican county chairs last month, “Due to a lack of follow through in the past, those dollars almost always show up late and leave early.”
In Washington State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur’s endorsement of Welcher for the position, Wilbur built up Welcher’s bona fides but also took square aim at the incumbent Kent:
[T]he incumbent, who talks a lot about the powers of incumbency in his campaign, has not raised one penny for any of our programs; nor has he ever asked me, not once, “Kirby, how can I help?“
In fact, last year he asked the WSRP to meet his commitment to raise money for the RNC by borrowing our donor list and issuing yet another direct mail hit on our donors. You should ask why, after 12 years, he is unable to raise $10,000 for the RNC let alone a single dollar for the WSRP?
Wilbur’s allusion to a current lack of state influence with the RNC could become half of the debate on the committeeman choice; the question of whether the state party should prioritize a communications revolution could be the other.
Read Welcher’s entire op-ed at The Washington Times.