Text messaging shapes campaign strategy

August 22, 2008 8:02:08 PM PDT
Anticipation was growing ahead of Saturday's big rally in Springfield. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama was set to take the stage at the old state capitol and introduce his vice presidential running mate.

On the eve of the big joint appearance, Obama spent Friday back home in Chicago.

The senator left his Hyde Park home Friday morning headed for a workout at a nearby gym. On Friday afternoon, Obama arrived at the Park Hyatt hotel, where he was expected to work on the speech that he will give next week at the Democratic convention in Denver.

Many supporters of Obama's campaign were keeping a close eye on their cell phones and mobile devices. The campaign was expected to send a text message alerting everyone of his VP pick.

Think of it as "the virtual precinct captain." While the Obama campaign won't say how many people have turned over their cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses just for the privilege of being the first to know, it's clear Team Obama has figured out a way to tap into texting.

The times have changed; so has the technology.

"I'm just dying to know who he picks!" said Wanda Antoine, Obama supporter.

Antoine is among the Obama supporters waiting for word. Some may have been fooled by bogus e-mails purporting to be from Barack Obama himself. One claimed Virginia Governor Tim Kaine was the pick. That message came from an AOL e-mail address, which the Obama campaign does not use.

Those who signed up to receive the real announcement are turning over valuable information to the campaign.

"I would say campaigns over the last four years have changed more than in the last 40 in terms of the use of the technology and the efficiency of it and the opportunities that go along with," said Dan Hynes, (D) Illinois Comptroller, Obama supporter.

Strategist, and former political spokesman Dennis Culloton, says anyone who turns over their phone number or e-mail address to a campaign should expect the messages won't stop with a VP announcement.

"You always hear about get out the vote activities and I think this is going to be an incredibly important tool for reminding people they've got to get out to vote," said Culloton.

Friday at the Gap on Michigan Avenue, customers were wearing their political allegiances on their sleeves, or shirts as the case may be. But not everyone is hip to the hype.

"I really hate getting a zillion texts so I'm staying away from it right now," said Dan Wickell, independent voter.

"Technology isn't just limited to one political party," said Kevin Markey, McCain outreach volunteer.

Last year, the wireless industry reported 1.6 billion text messages were sent each day. This year, AT&T alone is on track to handle nearly 200 billion texts. But one important one has yet to be sent.

A "Rock the Vote" analysis of the presidential primaries found a four percent increase in turnout when text messages were used as reminders.


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