Internet Strategy Helped Scott Brown Click With Voters

Tuesday, 16 Feb 2010 09:32 AM

By Ronald Kessler

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A number of forces came together to propel Scott Brown into the U.S. Senate: Brown was an appealing, tireless campaigner with a clear message. His opponent was weak. And Massachusetts voters, like so many across the country, are rejecting the left-wing agenda of President Obama and congressional Democrats.

But one secret of Brown’s successful campaign for the Senate was a nimble, hi-tech online strategy. Behind it was Robert Willington, the executive director of RebuildtheParty.com, a nationwide organization that is working to modernize GOP tactics with the latest technology.

Willington, who had known Brown for years when he was in the state Legislature, ran Web strategy for the campaign. Assuming that the campaign would be underfunded compared with the Democrats, Willington was ready to make do with less.

As one example, Willington used simple Google documents, spreadsheets, and forms as a way to collaborate.

“If we were creating a press release or if we were drafting a budget, we did it off of one document on the Internet, and that way we didn’t waste time by e-mailing different versions back and forth to each other,” Willington tells Newsmax.

Besides using the Web to get information to voters, the campaign used it to gain information in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1.

“We had a massive effort to collect emails and to collect phone numbers and names, because as Scott Brown said, we are running against the machine,” Willington says. “It wasn’t just a political talking point, it was literally true. When they owned 10 congressional offices, both Senate offices and every single constitutional office statewide, it was a large task to run against an entrenched operation. So when we collected e-mail addresses and we collected names, we would make sure our field directors got that data and that they got back to them within 24 hours to ensure that they had an invite into their local campaign office.”

While the campaign of Attorney General Martha Coakley used land-line phones to call voters, “We used Internet phones, where we could make three times as many calls,” Willington says. “Our voice phones were more efficient for a couple of reasons. Number one, our volunteers didn’t have to dial numbers. That time was eliminated from the process, since we uploaded our phone numbers into the database. So a person only had to push to talk.”

In addition, instead of repeating messages to answering machines, Brown campaign workers pushed a button to leave a recorded message.

“Your recorded voice automatically went to an answering machine, then you pushed next call, and you were already calling the next person,” Willington says. “Whereas a Martha Coakley supporter would still be sitting there repeating the message to the answering machine.”

To obtain data on voters, the campaign used the Republican National Committee’s Voter Vault database and collected e-mail addresses of those who planned to show up at campaign events.

“We did huge sign-ups all over the place all the time,” Willington notes. “People would sign up with their first name, last name, their e-mail, and their address. And that was just a great way for us to get a good indication of how big the event’s going to be, and it was a great way to collect their information.”

As it gathered momentum, Willington noticed that the campaign couldn’t accommodate all the volunteers.

“We had 10 regional offices for making our phone calls, and we had people standing on line for an hour and a half trying to make calls, because the phones were so jammed,” he says. “Part of the reason why the phones were so jammed is we did a Google blast on the Thursday before the last weekend, targeted around our 10 regional offices. So if you lived within a 30- to 40-mile radius of one of our regional offices, on Thursday no matter where you are on the Internet, you’re going to see ads that said, ‘Volunteers, the final weekend for Scott Brown at our Danvers office or Plymouth office or our Holyoke office.’”

Just after Christmas, “I saw an uptick in Twitter followers,” Willington says. “And I started targeting people on Twitter around the country, prominent opinion leaders, whether they be journalists or radio hosts or writers, or just movement people in general. I would start following them on Twitter.”

The campaign began running ads noting that, like John F. Kennedy, Brown would cut taxes.

“The JFK ad was on cutting taxes across the board, and it was a message that Martha Coakley couldn’t make,” Willington says.

“Coakley ran the textbook campaign for Democrats in Massachusetts, which is: You win the Democrat primary, and then you lay low, so as not to make any mistakes,” Willington says. “We couldn’t even find her for a week or two; she just was not around anywhere. And Scott Brown was aggressively campaigning. He was out there in front of Fenway Park shaking hands in the cold.”

Coakley, on the other hand, displayed elitism when the Boston Globe asked why she seemed passive and was not out campaigning.

“As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?’’ she said in an apparent reference to an online video of Brown doing just that.

What finally did Coakley in was the Brown campaign’s use of text messaging to get Brown supporters to call in when Coakley was on the radio. Willington would send out a text message to thousands of cell phones telling the recipients that Coakley was appearing on a particular station and asking them to call in with their questions.

“Even if you’re driving on Route 93 sitting in traffic going to Boston, all of a sudden you get that text message, and you don’t even have to dial a phone number,” Willington says. “You can just hit talk on that phone number right there. And now you’re an activist for Scott Brown, helping out.”

Pro-Brown callers would bombard Coakley.

“She even complained to the host of a liberal talk show, saying ‘I never knew you had so many Republican supporters, because every single call has been a Scott Brown call,’” Willington says.

As a result, Coakley became nervous.

“She was very edgy and not comfortable on talk radio, because every time she was on talk radio, she always just got tons of Scott Brown calls,” Willington recalls. “And that’s when she mistakenly suggested in a radio interview that Curt Schilling, the former Red Sox pitcher, is a Yankee fan.”
The campaign blasted the audio of her mix-up to the blogosphere, provoking widespread derision.

Aside from strategy, Willington says, “Brown had a great message, and he was very motivated, and he was always telling people he was going to win. He would go in the office and say, ‘There’s something out there, guys. There’s this feeling I’m getting out there.’ He was very positive, and I think that helped. He clicks with the voters very well.”

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.



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