Upgrading the campaign

Campaign 2.0 launched in California this week with a Tweet to hundreds of thousands of digital devices. “It’s official — running for Gov of CA. Wanted you to be the first to know. Need your help” was the entire text of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s announcement. Newsom is “trying to Obama-fy the governor’s race,” according to University of San Francisco political science Professor Corey Cook. The mayor launched his campaign on Twitter and Facebook and with a three-minute video on his campaign website and YouTube. The closest he came to a traditional announcement was a meeting with employees at Facebook headquarters in the high-tech country surrounding his home city.

In this latest iteration of a new-media campaign, the message is as contemporary as the technology. Newsom’s website video began with supporters speaking in Spanish, Cantonese and English about the need for a new direction. The mayor followed their slickly produced introduction with a pitch for the future. “I’ve seen a lot can happen when we stop looking back and start looking for solutions.” he said. Newsom was hardly subtle in his update of Barack Obama’s 2008 message. Noting the sorry state of California’s economy and the challenges of a $40 billion deficit, he made a clear break with the past. “The truth is we can’t afford to keep returning to the same old tired ideas and expect a different result,” he said on his website. “We need new ideas and bold, fresh, innovative solutions to get us out of this mess.”

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Newsom wasn’t just channeling Obama on his website and on YouTube — he was drawing a sharp contrast between himself and his likely opponents for the Democratic nomination. The 41-year-old mayor, the youngest to hold that office in 100 years, is positioning himself as a new-generation alternative to his competition. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, the first to announce, has been a political fixture in the state for 25 years. Garamendi has struggled to raise money and folded his hand the day after Newsom’s announcement, shifting to the congressional race to replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who has been tapped by President Obama for a position at the State Department. As yet unannounced but clearly running is Attorney General Jerry Brown, now 71, who served two terms in Sacramento as “Gov. Moonbeam” and ran for president twice. Brown, once the hot new commodity in politics, now looks a little shopworn. Likely candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, will have great appeal in the southland but is a much more traditional politician than his fellow mayor from San Francisco.

In the early stages of his campaign, Newsom is touting his progressive record, his business background and his image as a non-politician. As mayor he directed the city/county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — a move that is generally seen as triggering the gay rights/gay marriage movement around the country. He joined the Kyoto Protocol while the Bush administration was rejecting the treaty and banned bottled water in city buildings, again triggering similar action by other municipalities. In 2007 he introduced his Health Choices Plan, which he claims is well on the way to providing universal healthcare to San Francisco residents. He is also making much of his fiscal management of the city, citing his entrepreneurial background as preparing him to handle a financial crisis that threatens to cripple California. “No teachers are getting laid off in San Francisco,” he proclaims, and credits his strong management and creation of a rainy-day fund to save teachers’ jobs — in contrast to massive layoffs in school districts around the state. He claims San Francisco’s bond rating has gone up while the state’s has tumbled and takes credit for creating “green jobs” to bolster the local economy. “We didn’t blame Washington — we got to work,” he says.

The messages and the technology are very similar to those that propelled Obama to the White House. Newsom’s team says it is taking both to the next level. The mayor has nearly 280,000 followers on Twitter and some 40,000 supporters on Facebook. His website is state-of-the-art, and we can expect him to use search, e-mail, texting and any other digital tactic that works to reach a tech-savvy audience in California.

The challenge will be to take his message beyond under-40 voters and to define himself to those in the southern part of the state, who are much more familiar with Jerry Brown and likely opponent Villaraigosa. Newsom is counting on his digital army to help accomplish that goal. “One person can’t do it alone — join us” is his on-line call to action. If enough people do, Campaign 2.0 may well be the future of politics.



Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen.
E-mail: ben@gcsa.com

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