GOP Aims to Overcome Digital Gap With Dems

Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 06:47 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Republicans are beginning to close the digital gap with their rivals across the aisle, as the GOP House leadership takes the lead toward a more tech-savvy operation to reach voters who are increasingly plugged into a digital world, Politico reports.

"I've been encouraged that even the older members that used to carry around beepers, they recognize that the world has changed and they need to be part of it," House GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state tells Politico. 

"When we're around the leadership table … there's now an expectation that social media is going to be a part of our communication efforts," she adds.

Republican leadership in April even launched a new version of its website, replete with criticisms of the Obama administration.

McMorris Rodgers had called for broad technology changes in a December 2008 memo to then-House Minority Leader John Boehner urging the GOP be taken "from PC to MAC," Politico notes.

And in 2012, the Republican National Committee itself bemoaned the fact "The Obama team is several years ahead of everyone else in its technological advantage." 

Though some of the changes made since then have been cosmetic —  the GOP Conference's work space has been refurbished to look like a Silicon Valley startup —  others are substantial, Politico reports.

Both parties are all-in on Twitter, Politico reports. On Facebook, 91-year-old Texas GOP Rep. Ralph Hall last month posted his first selfie, while North Carolina Republican Rep. Howard Coble, 83, earlier this month uploaded pictures showing off his wardrobe. 

And more than 1,000 House GOP staffers have been trained over the past year to use different digital technologies, including Photoshop and social media metrics, Politico reports.

Kyle Buckles, a deputy press secretary for Missouri Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler, recently got a half-dozen retweets after posting a graphic and July 2, 1776, quote from John Adams on Twitter.

"That's big for us," Buckles tells Politico. "We don't have a very Twitter-heavy universe in our district, but I'm hoping to change that."

Still South Carolina Republican Rep. Tom Rice tells Politico sometimes the old ways work best —  like telephone town halls with thousands in his district.

He told Politico about a voter in her 80s who remarked, "I thought I liked my last congressman. But you just call me right up on the phone."

"Those people," Rice said, "they're never going to be on Google."

There's even been a bipartisan effort to leap into the digital age, Politico reports, including in the House in 2012-13, when lawmakers adopted new transparency standards that allowed for the bulk data release of the U.S. Code, as well as legislation and floor summaries.

Politico reports the change helped the Sunlight Foundation's OpenCongress.org and other sites that can turn the information into a more user-friendly format.

The GOP leadership team deserves credit "for engaging in a variety of positive developments with regard to new media usage in the House," Faiz Shakir, digital director for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, tells Politico.

"I think in general some of these developments have even outpaced where the Senate has been able to go."

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