This is a question sparked by some recent news from the campaign trail. Two veterans of Blue State Digital have left the firm to serve as digital directors on high-profile U.S. Senate campaigns.
First, Lauren Miller—one of the relatively few remaining BSD staff who served on the Obama ‘08 campaign, and also one of the best email writers in the business—has moved to Massachusetts to help Elizabeth Warren take on Republican Sen. Scott Brown. BSD’s Alex Kellner, meanwhile, is heading to the heartland to work for Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill in a race that will likely prove crucial to Democratic efforts to keep their majority in the Senate this fall.
The news that Lauren and Alex were taking their talents to statewide races did not sit well with some Republican friends of mine. Not that they had anything bad to say about the two; their grumbling was about comparable Republican staffing choices in high-stakes races. I’m picking up a sense that Republican digital experts don’t feel like they have much company—their side seems to be falling behind in the race to build a deep bench of talented online campaigners.
One reason is that Democrats benefit from several factors in this area. First, the Obama campaign trained a huge number of staff and volunteers in the dark arts of digital organizing in 2008, and many have gone on to sharpen their skills on other electoral and advocacy campaigns. Second, the left has built a relatively robust infrastructure to turn out new online organizers every year. To name just two examples, the New Organizing Institute has trained thousands of future campaign staffers since its founding in 2005, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee has spent much of the last few months raising funds to place new media staff on competitive Congressional campaigns.
Finally, I’d argue the huge number of nonprofit advocacy campaigns on the left provides a real laboratory to experiment with tactics and techniques, and the skills developed there naturally jump the 501(c)3 firewall into electoral campaigns.
Republicans just don’t seem to have anything comparable at the moment. Until something changes, their relative lack of experienced staff will naturally put their campaigns at a disadvantage in a political world in which digital tools and online channels are increasingly key to finding donors, spreading messages, and organizing volunteers. To keep up, they’ll need to devote some serious resources to building institutions dedicated to turning out good staff, much like they built a think tank infrastructure in the 1980s and 90s to generate ideas for the movement.
The next step: once staff is trained, campaigns will actually need to listen to them.
Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award winning Epolitics.com, a fifteen-year veteran of online politics and a perpetual skeptic. See something interesting? Send him a pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also in Technology Bytes this issue: Data is going social.