Obama to text the VP. What about McCain?

Jake Turcotte

Barack Obama's campaign made a lot of noise in the online world earlier this week with the pronouncement that Obama will send out a text message notifying supporters (or anyone who signs up) who he has selected as his vice presidential candidate. A first? Without question.

Will McCain follow suit? No word as of yet.

That Obama is planting this tech-flag first isn't surprising. Just yesterday, the Obama team announced a new campaign website designed specifically for mobile phones – complete with downloadable video. As they put it, the "site is ideal for all the people in your life that live and breathe on their cell phones."

Another innovation on barackobama.com

The consensus of those tracking the two e-campaigns is that Obama is tech savvy and McCain a luddite.

Don't believe it? Ask McCain.

“I am an illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance that I can get," McCain said when responding to Politico's Mike Allen when asked if he used a PC or a Mac.

The conservative Washington Times echoed what digital critics are saying on TechPresident and other sites which monitor campaigns and the web when it recently ran the headline "High-tech campaign media race favors Obama."

Judging simply by the available numbers, there is a big disparity. Both candidates have a presence on Facebook, the popular social networking site. But Barack Obama has 1.3 million supporters compared to John McCain's 200,000.

YouTube, the video sharing behemoth, shows that Obama's videos have been watched 52 million times compared to McCain's 9.5 million.

Is it as bad as it sounds?

Phil Noble, founder of Politics Online which bills itself as the oldest political Internet company, says the gulf between the two camps is somewhere between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Lakes. The common denominator is foundational: it's the candidate.

"Their basic problem is that McCain is an analogue politician in the digital age," Noble said. "It's like having a fancy wine and cheese stand at a biker rally – it's just the wrong product, to the wrong demographic, at the wrong time."

So is Obama the right candidate at the right time for the Internet savvy?

Noble, who believes Obama will take the White House in November, describes the strategy behind the Democrat's e-campaign as "building a movement."

"They have a larger vision of how to inspire people online and then provide them with the digital tools to empower themselves to take action," Noble said. "As big as the impact has been thus far in the campaign, assuming they win and I do, they will use what they have done in the campaign to empower new types of ongoing participation once they are in government. That will be when the real fun starts."

It ain't over 'til it's over

Not so fast, says GOP Internet strategist Patrick Ruffini. But the stakes are high. Ruffini says the McCain campaign needs to move quickly and follow suit.

"Announcing the VP online would be a clear sign that the McCain campaign understands that the Internet has come of age – that it can be used as a central strategic medium like television," Ruffini said.

How to best do it? Not surprisingly the consultant has an idea.

"My idea would be to engage supporters on a medium everyone online uses – e-mail," he said. "And instead of a fake 'you heard it first' message to millions of people – do a contest where you'll announce the VP an hour early to a hundred random people who sign up to get the announcement."

Ruffini said this could be McCain's last chance to recruit a "real grassroots army."

The impact of Obama's forthcoming text message has yet to be seen. It likely will occur in the next few days. To participate, text "VP" to 62262 and you'll be signed up (ask your children for assistance if you're lost.)

As for McCain's announcement, stay tuned.

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