Suburban Candidates& E-Campaigns Some Local Politicians Trade Knocking on Doors for More Online Interaction

Article excerpt

Byline: Kerry Lester

Not only did Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign embrace social media, but social media, in turn, embraced Obama.

The campaign boasted $6.5 million in online donations, 1 million text message subscribers and more than 5 million social networking followers, an effort that's been called revolutionary by supporters and opponents alike.

Now, the strategy is becoming standard practice for candidates from all parties and at all levels.

"The way (Obama) ran that campaign has changed the way campaigns will be run, how people want to be communicated with," said 10th Congressional District candidate Bob Dold, a Winnetka Republican.

But bringing that success to scale is proving to be a challenge for suburban candidates running for office this fall.

While some have taken easily to the trend, quickly snapping up Facebook friends, Twitter followers and online fundraising dollars, others have been slower to change, focusing almost solely on tried-and-true campaign components such as ads, mailers and precinct walks.

"Whether they're using it or not, at this point they're all contemplating how to use it," Sharon Atler, professor emerita of history and political science at Harper College in Palatine said.

While numbers of followers by no means indicate who is leading in a particular race, they do shed light on the candidates' reliance on the tools, less than 100 days to go before the Nov. 2 election.

In the close race for the 43rd state House, Elgin Republican Ruth Munson is attempting to take her old seat back from first-term Elgin Democrat Keith Farnham.

Six-month financial reports reveal the candidates are neck and neck in terms of campaign cash on hand. Both have spent recent weeks out in the district that stretches from Elgin to Carpentersville

to Hoffman Estates, knocking on doors.

Differences in social media strategy, however, are more apparent.

On her personal page, Ruth Munson had 2,441 friends as of last check -- far more than any other suburban legislative candidate in the Daily Herald's coverage area. Add to that another 667 fans of her campaign page, "Join Ruth Munson," and 1,300 Twitter followers. Farnham, on the other hand, has 79 personal page friends, five political page fans, and doesn't yet tweet.

As a state representative in 2007, Munson said, she started learning about Facebook through her college-aged children.

As owner of a software-development business, the 52-year-old said using the high-tech tools came naturally. But seeking re-election in 2008, Facebook and Twitter hadn't yet exploded, and seemingly appealed to young voters more than anyone else.

Working with Elgin media strategist Sarah Evans, Munson said, helped her to refine her strategy, featuring a mix of personal contacts with fundraising opportunities and information about campaign events.

While separate pages, each of the social networking sites she uses are interlinked, so supporters can easily move -- and post -- from one page to the other.

"Using social media is second nature," she said. "I can solve the problem right there. Using it for my business, why wouldn't I use it in my personal life and political life?"

Farnham, 62, isn't of the same mindset.

"I've got some young people who want to do it on staff. A young man that set up my Facebook and Web page over the last couple months. To us, it's a secondary source. I know there's a certain (online audience) out there," he said. "I prefer standing at someone's door, actually talking to people."

In the Northwest suburban 9th Congressional District, Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, has the advantage of incumbency, and Republican challenger Joel Pollak is attempting to use social media to make up ground. …