2012 battles fought in 140 characters or less
July 6th, 2011
07:02 PM ET
12 years ago

2012 battles fought in 140 characters or less

(CNN) – Might future presidential debates feature candidates that voters can't see, can't hear and who answer questions in 140 characters or less?

While televised presidential debates are far from political extinction, what's certain is that more and more presidential-type forums are making significant use of social media or wholly being broadcast online.

Cases in point: on Wednesday, President Obama became the first president to tweet when he answered questions on jobs and the economy via a Twitter townhall. The White House has its own Twitter account separate from an account designated for his re-election efforts. Tweets from the president are signed "-BO." The Twitter townhall follows the president's Facebook townhall in April.

Also on Wednesday, an Internet-based Tea Party group – TheTeaParty.net – announced it will hold a presidential debate with Republican candidates wholly on Twitter. That debate is scheduled for July 20, and candidates will answer questions via Twitter's requisite restriction that encourages short answers: in 140 characters or less.

That Twitter debate will feature Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Michigan Rep. Thad McCotter, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Organizers say they've invited and are waiting for a response from other GOP presidential candidates – including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and even Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who has not launched a presidential bid but is considering one.

Might forcing candidates to address complicated issues in 140 characters or less dumb down the issues to simple messages and campaign slogans?

"I think the exact opposite is true," TheTeaParty.net spokesman Dustin Stockton told CNN. "It forces them to really have to answer the question."

As Stockton explained, though candidates will be limited by a character count, they will be allowed to respond in multiple tweets, and will have two or three minutes to "delve into" a question.

"Everybody will have the opportunity to respond at the same time," Stockton said. "You'll be able to compare each candidate's answers side by side. And since it's a silent medium, the transcripts really kind of rip out somebody's oratory skills to evade a question."

Meanwhile, Stockton addressed a larger point: that such forums allow conservatives to catch up with liberal counterparts who have long held an edge in using the Internet to rally supporters toward electoral success.

"I've been pitching this to our people as one more way that we'll be able to close the technology gap," Stockton said. "Because our counterparts on the other side are way ahead of us in both bold grassroots organizations and social networking. The Tea Party movement is really a response to close that gap, to remain competitive in modern elections."

Liberal online activists realize that conservatives are right on their heels. The recent Netroots Nation gathering of liberal bloggers in Minneapolis saw competition from conservative bloggers attending the RightOnline conference - just blocks away.

Justin Rubin is the Executive Director of liberal MoveOn.org. His group has been extremely successful in many of its online electoral strategies. And Rubin told CNN that conservatives have imitated some of his group's tactics.

"We kept a list for awhile for all the organizations that had announced they'd become the new conservative MoveOn.org…and we lost count at like 11," Rubin said, tongue-in-cheek.

And yet he admitted his political competitors are making major inroads.

"I do think that the Tea Party movement has figured out some really interesting things online," Rubin said. "[For example] how to have a broad array of people acting under a common banner. And a lot of that they've done online. And that's not an easy thing to do."

Rubin continued: "They're evolving fast and we better too if we want to save the country…If we're not constantly trying to reinvent our game, then we're not doing what's necessary to win."

"Whatever advantage we have or might have had in the past could be gone at any minute."

Follow Shannon Travis on Twitter: @ShanTravisCNN

Filed under: 2012 • Debate • Twitter
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Rudy NYC

    A simple yes or no will do, thank-you.

    July 6, 2011 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |