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Candidates go to Twitter to get out their messages

Twitter is abuzz with presidential candidates
this year, though not all in the Twittersphere are equal.
Rick Santorum tweets a lot more than Rick Perry, Herman Cain is
the Republican most likely to be retweeted, and their Twitter
followers are dwarfed by President Barack Obama's.
That's according to an Associated Press analysis of the
presidential candidates' use of Twitter that found widely different
levels of engagement, despite the site's emergence as a go-to hub
for political communication.
The AP analyzed each candidate's Twitter stream beginning the
day he or she joined the presidential contest through Monday, Oct.
24. The data, available from Twitter's website, highlights every
message posted by candidates, as well as how many times their
messages were "retweeted," or reposted, by other users on the
site.
No one believes the campaign will be won or lost on Twitter -
it's just one slice of an enormous communication effort each
campaign wages in cyberspace. But with a well-timed 140 character
blast, candidates can make news, respond to charges or reinforce
talking points in a matter of seconds.
"Candidates are living in a new media ecology that rewards
speed, and there is no faster way to distribute your message intact
than over Twitter," said Andrew Rasiej, the founder of Personal
Democracy Media which tracks the intersection of media and
politics. "If TV ads were the rifles of campaign battles in the
past, Twitter is the machine gun used to distribute a message or
annihilate an opponent."
And unlike pricy television and Web advertising, tweeting is
free. That's one reason some of the financially struggling
candidates have relied on Twitter as a way to promote themselves
away from the media filter.
To that end, the AP found the Newt Gingrich campaign, which
trails many other rivals in fundraising and is more than $1 million
in debt, to be one of the most active on Twitter. The former House
speaker has Tweeted more than 470 times as of last Monday.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, had tweeted 326
times to more than 35,000 followers.
Perry, the well-funded Texas governor, is at the other end of
the Twitter spectrum. His campaign has sent 42 tweets to more than
99,000 followers under his Twitter handle, (at)GovernorPerry, since
he launched his presidential campaign in August.
"20% Flat Tax is the way to go! Cut, Balance and Grow plan,"
Perry's campaign tweeted after delivering a speech announcing his
flat tax plan Tuesday.
Over the weekend, Perry tweeted that he was enjoying "a picture
perfect Sunday at home with the greatest woman in the world...."
A candidate's Twitter feed is often a reflection of his or her
persona.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign has tweeted 233
times under the Twitter handle (at)MittRomney to more than 150,000
followers, almost all directly from Twitter's website. Most of his
messages have been relatively safe, largely reflecting the
campaign's orderly nature.
"Excited & honored to officially be on the NH ballot-great
being there yesterday with Gov. Sununu," Romney tweeted after
receiving the endorsement of New Hampshire's former governor.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has taken a riskier approach.
Trailing in polls, Huntsman has used Twitter to raise eyebrows and
draw attention to his unconventional candidacy.
Huntsman, who served as Obama's ambassador to China, responded
to a renewed debate about Obama's birthplace Tuesday after Perry
questioned the validity of the president's birth certificate.
"Barack Obama was born in America. Period," Huntsman tweeted to
some 44,300 followers.
The AP analysis found Huntsman had sent 120 tweets since
becoming a candidate.
The success of a candidate's Twitter strategy can in part be
gauged in how often a candidate's message is retweeted by followers
to a broader audience. By that measure, the AP analysis found Cain
has outpaced his GOP rivals.
Cain, the former pizza magnate, has sent 579 messages to about
142,000 followers under (at)THEHermanCain handle since joining the
race. Of those, 144 have been retweeted more than 100 times.
Despite their best efforts, none of the Republicans are in the
same league with the president when it comes to the successful use
of Twitter.
Obama, whose campaign revolutionized the use of the Internet as
a fundraising and organizational tool in his 2008 campaign, has
10.8 million Twitter followers. His campaign, under the handle
(at)BarackObama, has tweeted 731 times since launching his
re-election bid. Of those, 690 were retweeted more than 100 times.
Most of his tweets are sent by staff, but Obama has personally
tweeted a handful of times, such as when he went to Capitol Hill to
pitch his jobs plan in September. Tweets directly from the
president are signed -bo.
Obama's digital advisers acknowledge the campaign had a huge
head start online against the Republican field. But they also
maintain the success of their Twitter strategy, particularly
measured by their retweets, comes from using Twitter to ask
supporters to take a specific action - attending an event, watching
a speech, sharing their story about how his jobs plan might help
them. The Republicans haven't learned yet how to make best use of
the platform, Obama advisers say.
"Fundamentally, you are trying to shape a relationship with
voters. Go volunteer, donate, go vote. It's not a novelty for us,"
Obama campaign digital director Teddy Goff said.
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Online:
http://twitter.com
Gillum reported from Washington. He can be reached on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/jackgillum
Fouhy can be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bfouhy

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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