Does the social Web -- the blogging, tweeting, Facebooking Internet -- work better for insurgent candidates?
The answer, of course, is not that simple. Yes, the here-comes-everybody, let's-crash-the-gates nature of social networking lends itself more easily to insurgent candidates. The relatively unknown Barack Obama effectively leveraged the social web in his 2008 campaign against establishment candidates Hillary Clinton and John McCain. That was also the strategy behind Scott Brown's campaign against Martha Coakley in last year's Massachusetts senate race. And, in a way, this is the kind of energy that insurgent Rep. Joe Sestak may benefit from in his primary challenge against the establishment candidate, Sen. Arlen Specter. If the short and still evolving history of online politics is any guide, Sestak will beat Specter tonight.
"Storming the castle is usually more energizing than governing it, so it is no surprise that we see the Web having so much impact for insurgent campaigns," Jon Henke, a conservative blogger who writes for The Next Right, wrote me in an e-mail message. "The more enthusiastic a community is, the more useful the Web can be for them."
All political eyes are focused on just three primary races today: Sestak v. Specter in Pennsylvania; Rand Paul v. Trey Grayson in Kentucky; and Sen. Blanche Lincoln v. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in Arkansas. And because of the social Web, everyone from around the country who side with the insurgent candidates have the upper hand. That's why, for example, the 47-year-old Paul -- a Fox News regular, tea party favorite and son of Rep. Ron Paul -- have some 33,000 fans on his official Facebook page as of Monday afternoon. Grayson, on the other hand, have around 5,800.
At bottom, primaries are a numbers game. Not many voters turn out. This is why, more so than general elections, turning out their engaged, impassioned base can make all the difference for insurgent candidates. Said Peter Greenberger, head of industry relations at Google: "An undecided or apathetic voter is unlikely to follow a candidate on Twitter or friend her on Facebook. And primaries/specials usually end up attracting a higher percentage of base voters (and a lower turnout)."
But technology, of course, is only a tool. All the grassroots, online-powered support do not necessarily translate to votes. As Colin Delany of Epolitics.com pointed out, the social Web is "no magic bullet." He added: " You still have to have the right candidate with the right message at the right moment. Otherwise, Ron Paul would be president right now."