Washington (CNN) – In the 2004 election, "new media" was defined by blogs. In 2008, it was defined by Facebook and Twitter. In 2012, those social media tools will move from your computer screen to your pocket, as mobile technology helps define the new terms of campaign engagement.
Political strategists are getting ready for the new era - testing new uses for mobile technology, and generating massive contact lists. Last week, Harry Reid's re-election campaign launched a text messaging program surveying constituents on their feelings about health care. Those results were then sent out for all to see on Reid's campaign Twitter account.
"Last campaign was almost, but this campaign will be, a tipping point for mobile," says Todd Ogasawara, who writes the blog Mobile Content Today. "A lot of these tools are not only maturing, but the people using these tools are maturing."
A third of Nevada's voters registered after Reid's last re-election bid in 2004. Thirty-seven percent of those are under the age of 30, a demographic that began texting not long after they learned to talk.
They may not pick up a newspaper, but they never put down their cell phone.
"The campaign recognizes cell phones are a primary mode of communication and we need to go communicate with voters on their turf," Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall told CNN. The new technology, he says, is driving traditional political organizing. "Instead of having someone knock at someone's door, it allows you to do all the traditional political organizing online," he said.
Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman's campaign has hired Tusk Mobile, a firm that concentrates on mobile strategy for Republican candidates, to spearhead that effort for her gubernatorial bid in California. Tusk Mobile executive Chris Taylor is training each department - fundraising, research, outreach, youth - in the tactics of the new technology. The Whitman team has already made mobile tools a centerpiece of their campaign strategy: At campaign rallies, staffers ask audience members to text in what they want the Republican candidate to cover in her speech. Moments before she goes on stage, her team looks at the text results and tailors the speech accordingly.
Politicians aren't the only ones picking up on the trend. Health Care for America Now, the union umbrella group pushing for passage of President Obama's health care plan, tapped Revolution Messaging to create a mobile tool to summon instant grassroots armies: a "call Congress" tool that changes depending on the group's legislative priority of the week, and geo-targets phones to pinpoint congressional and Senate districts.
Revolution Messaging founder Scott Goodstein, who ran mobile operations for Obama's presidential bid last year, predicts a campaign future where the technology comes to dominate the political battlefield. "As phones become smarter and smarter, more people are moving to using their phone for photos, videos, MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)," Goodstein told CNN. "These things were not there for the 2008 or 2009 election, but another six months of peoples' contracts coming up for renewal and it will be a big factor in the 2010 and 2012 race."