2012 prelude: GOP hopefuls go online

By: Kenneth P. Vogel
April 24, 2010 07:08 PM EDT

President Barack Obama’s prospective 2012 Republican rivals are investing heavily in the Internet, looking to cut into what was an overwhelming advantage for Obama in the 2008 campaign.Through the first three months of the year, the political groups started by Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee have spent a total of nearly $600,000 building their web operations, according to reports filed this month with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

The online competition has taken a variety of forms. Palin has hired the two young founders of a fan site that zealously defends her honor and upbraids her critics. Pawlenty has hired online consultants from the 2008 presidential campaigns of Romney and Ron Paul. Gingrich has developed a sophisticated in-house micro-targeting operation. And Huckabee has deployed volunteers to man social networks.

And, though each potential candidate insists the efforts – online and otherwise – are intended to boost conservatives headed into the 2010 midterm elections, their web operations suggest a keen awareness of the Internet’s importance for organizing, messaging and raising money – and certainly could help lay the groundwork for their own prospective bids in 2012.

“Anyone thinking about running for president – or even local dog catcher – needs to have an effective online strategy from day one, because it will be the most determining factor of early-, mid- and possibly late support,” said David All, an online political consultant who founded the blog TechRepublican.com, which tracks the use of Internet applications by Republican candidates and groups.

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