The Senate race between Andrew Rice and incumbent James Inhofe seemingly pits new against old. But both campaigns are working to use the new media application YouTube to release campaign messages at the pace the “blogosphere” demands.
It speeds up the dialogue,” said Karina Henderson, new media director for the Rice campaign, of the free video-sharing Web site. “On previous campaign cycles, you might have a couple days, weeks, to really get a response out to something an opponent may say or opponents’ supporters may bring out or highlight and make accusations on. (Now) you have got sometimes a few hours to get on top of it. It’s so fast back and forth.”
YouTube clips can convey or harass candidates’ messages. So far in this senatorial race, the first round of YouTube jabs have been issued by the Rice campaign and third-party candidates. In the primary, Rice is one of two Democrats running for the Senate seat. Three Republicans and a lone Independent also are vying to knock off Inhofe.
Henderson describes Rice’s as “the scrappier” of the two campaigns, with less financial resources. All it takes to post a video is a camera and a few volunteers.
A Rice campaign video posted in May used Inhofe’s statements about gas prices with a campaign blogger’s comments running below. And, a video of testimonials from Vietnam and Gulf War veterans posted by Oklahomavets.org opposed to the Inhofe campaign attracted more than 11,800 hits by press time.
On the Republican side, Inhofe’s most recent television ad has been posted on YouTube. The bit touts his experience in the clean up of the Tar Creek area, in bringing funds for roads and military bases, and his support for the tornado-damaged town of Pitcher.
At the time of the interview with Oklahoma Gazette, the Inhofe campaign had not seen the Rice videos.
“I guess we are focused on the good things Inhofe has done,” said Inhofe political director Ryan Cassin. “We have a lot of folks who are really excited about it. We have no problem finding people who are exciting, talking about Inhofe. We’d much rather run with the positive stuff because it’s a lot more fun. We are working hard. It’s different, I guess.”
The appearance of efficient technologies, though, has not changed the campaign strategy in any fundamental way.
“There are no real ‘new’ strategies this year,’ said Keith Gaddie, professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma. “There are new messages, but the vehicles for putting information out are tried-and-true: compelling literature and online products. What is different is the mobilization techniques that take advantage of advances in contacting by using not just e-mail and texting, but also social network applications (Facebook, MySpace and their ilk).”
‘QUIRKY’ GOES MAINSTREAM
For each candidate’s campaign, this is the first election in which YouTube clips will convey his or harass the other’s messages ” depending on who leaks the video. Communications workers on both sides are figuring the medium out as they go.
“The Democrats are changing as far as uses for these kind of things,” Henderson said. “YouTube started out as this crazy, quirky place where kids did skate stunts. Now they’re using it to ask presidential candidates questions. It’s become so much more mainstream now.”
YouTube videos currently posted by both campaigns attempt to give Oklahomans a voice. Both Rice and Inhofe’s campaign Web sites feature clips that take the viewer on the campaign trail.
Cassin said Inhofe’s campaign-sponsored clips will feature him with everyday Oklahomans and campaign volunteers at work. A current YouTube clip, “Team Inhofe on the Road,” shows volunteers at a parade at Fort Sill in Lawton.
“It’s a big state with a lot of ground to cover,” Cassin said. “You sort of feel like you are on the trail with him, and YouTube opens up that window. We try to put a lot of our people on, too. It’s about Oklahoma and Oklahomans. There are a lot of people who do a lot of footwork day in and day out.”
In videos posted on the Rice Web site, attendants at The Rose Rock Festival in Noble talk about their concerns with global warming, a key issue for Rice. In a similar video, Rice talks to a rancher in Rush Springs. Henderson said she wants YouTube to introduce Rice to people who may not be able to see him in person or on television.
“Mostly (we’ll film) him talking on the trail,” Henderson said. “That’s when he’s most natural, when he’s most comfortable. We don’t just want it to be him as (a) talking head in front of a computer. He’s the first person to say it’s not about him. It’s about the people of Oklahoma ” representing them. Having him sitting in front of a camera, that’s antithetical to that. We want to show the whole process.”
‘A YOUTUBE MOMENT’
YouTube is an X factor for campaigns. YouTube “moments” have wreaked havoc on candidates in other campaigns in recent years. In the 2006 Senate race in Virginia, Republican Sen. George Allen was favored to win until a YouTube clip surfaced in which Allen said a derogatory term to a camera-wielding staffer of his opponent, James Webb. Local newspaper and television media aired the clip, which was viewed hundreds of thousands of times, according to a story The New Media and U.S. Politics published at Usinfo.state.gov.
YouTube has proved an asset in other cases. Barack Obama’s complex speech on race, “A More Perfect Union,” could be viewed online in its entirety. The speech has attracted more than 4.5 million views on YouTube.
In the YouTube age, candidates will always have to keep an eye on cameras.
“The campaigns are already stalking each other with cameras, trying to advance each other’s schedules and harass opponents with video,” Gaddie said. “Candidates will have no private, unscripted moments once they are in any campaign environment. Every candidate will do some stupid thing in a campaign ” YouTube makes every camera a potential portal for the electorate. Privacy is dead.”
Cassin said the Inhofe campaign is aware of the potential for YouTube leaks, but not worried.
“We are certainly aware that cameras are everywhere. Cell phones have cameras, so even things that don’t look like cameras can be a camera,” Cassin said. “Inhofe has been filmed often wherever he’s going. It’s not something about being careful as much as he knows people pay attention. He pays folks enough respect to know they pay attention to what he says. I think it’s not something where you have to be constantly thinking, ‘Am I in the middle of a YouTube moment here?'”
Henderson said that some clips are out of the control of the campaign.
“It’s what other people put out. We’ll definitely be looking out for that,” Henderson said. “We hope everything will be supportive and that people will take a cue from what we put out there. We are trying to run a good, smart, tough campaign that’s focused on issues. We are not about cheap shots. We going to keep straight on the message.”
CROWDING OUT ON COMMON GROUND
The Rice campaign said although YouTube enables a rapid flow of information, ideas for videos released by the campaign will still undergo scrutiny.
“You run it through the same kind of channels, have a thought session and think it through and how we can get our message across more effectively,” Henderson said. “The speed doesn’t affect our caution or our consideration for the issues and people.”
Speed, though, is also the name of the media game ” and, ironically, could actually slow the campaign down.
“Some campaign operations have immediate response to both events and opposition messages, but the news media are so inundated with immediate information that it can lead to a crowding-out effect,” Gaddie said. “The biggest problem is that the media have come to anticipate and ‘preport’ the story, rather than merely waiting for events to unfold. In a sense, the ability to charge and counter charge is so efficient, the efforts cancel each other out ” everyone appears to be standing still because the whole campaign is pre-scripted and the plays are telegraphed to the opposition and the media.”
Nevertheless, Cassin expects YouTube to bridge the divide between the campaign and potential voters.
“I kind of see the Internet as the great equalizer,” Cassin said. “Everyone has the opportunity to be engaged. Consider it in terms of inside and outside camp headquarters. Even now, that delineation is much less clear with YouTube. You can say, ‘Hey, I saw what the volunteers are doing; I’d love to get involved,’ whether it’s delineating between volunteering or not, young or old, urban or rural.”
If the all-inclusive public ” new YouTube users included ” has the final say, then expect this senatorial campaign race to resume the tried-and-true political strategies.
“There will be loads of unfair play, because politics is about the subjective, about unfair play,” Gaddie said. “He who has a wit that connects to the heart of the public shall prevail.” “Danny Marroquin