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Latest front in healthcare debate? Think 140 characters or less.

By Matthew Shaer / July 28, 2009

President Barack Obama walks to the Rose Garden to speak on healthcare reform earlier this month. As the healthcare debate intensifies, Obama has encouraged his supporters to use Twitter to contact lawmakers across the country.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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It's an age-old politicking strategy, with a decidedly new-age twist.

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This week, as Congress prepares for a showdown on healthcare, President Barack Obama has hastily been shoring up support for his reform agenda. Historically, this kind of effort was organized via familiar channels: letter-writing campaigns, phone calls to a DC office, distribution of brightly colored placards, vitriolic emails to the local news organization. But @BarackObama, who is often called the first BlackBerry president, is thinking on a much more micro level.

Yesterday, Obama unveiled a feature called Tweet Your Senator, which allows users to locate their representatives, and lobby them via Twitter. The whole thing hooks onto the back end of Twitter, so there's no fuss here: you enter your zip code, and then you punch in your username and password. Then, voila, the application connects you directly to the feed of a lawmaker in your area. Already, Twitter is clogged up with thousands of messages from users all over the country.

Here, for instance, is a tweet from @lshelby, a resident of the New York metro area. "@SenatorMenendez Standing up for NJ families? Then pass health care reform with public option ASAP." Senator Robert Menendez is a Democrat from New Jersey; his name was generated automatically by Tweet Your Senator, as were pre-cooked messages written by the Obama administration. Of course, users can always write their own messages, now that they know whom to lobby.

The other side of the aisle

Of course this is politics, not a picnic, so of course the folks from the other side of the aisle have been weighing in too. Granted: the Republicans never managed to run a web campaign nearly as successful as Obama's. But the GOP does have a pretty loud presence on the social networks, and more than a few lawmakers have been broadcasting their opinions in 140-character blasts.

Here's Mike Pence, a representative from Texas: "We're on the verge of historic victory for the American taxpayer by stopping gov't takeover of #healthcare #wherearethejobs Tune into CSPAN"

Meanwhile, John McCain, a senator from Arizona, wrote: "According to Rasmussen, 52% of AZ voters oppose the current Health care reform plan – I agree, we need the right reform."

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