Todd Van Etten doesn't subscribe to the theory that Democrats are dominating the GOP online. He points to the launch of GOP.com as a large step the Republicans took in targeting and delivering content to supporters online. But that stigma is out there, admits Van Etten, a consultant with Crowdverb who formerly served as new media director at the Republican National Committee. "But it's not particularly hurtful. Everyone likes being the underdog, especially in politics." He makes the case for the GOP rehabilitating its web cred.
C&E: Looking back at 2008, President Obama's online presence seemed to dwarf that of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Did McCain miss a chance to be competitive there?
Van Etten: The nature of the Barack Obama campaign allowed them to be much more successful in those types of things. It's possible that someone like a Marco Rubio, an up-and-comer in the party that people are now learning about and getting excited about, would be able to pull off a feat like that. It has more to do with the kind of base that you are attracting than any kind of big schism between Republicans and Democrats online.
C&E: Do Democrats have a grassroots organizing advantage online?
Van Etten: What Barack Obama has a leg up on us on, and the DNC and the larger Democratic establishment, is that they invested heavily in this stuff in 2008 and have learned a tremendous amount. The amount of data that was collected in 2008 that wasn't leveraged at the time, people have gone back and they are now making larger correlations based on that exact same data. Saying, 'hey look, here's something we didn't realize last time that we can now target on.' I feel like Democrats do have four extra years on us of collecting that data. Democrats know what works.
C&E: Will that change in 2012?
Van Etten: I know that Mitt Romney is a prolific tester. If a vendor comes in and says, 'we can get you x, y, or z amount of views.' He'll say, 'Great, put your money where you mouth is. Do a test for us.' I think Republicans, in this cycle, are much more willing to say, 'Great, you've proven yourself, here’s a huge ad buy.' I'm not worried about the online future of Republicans.