The Wired War Room
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Reporter's Notebook: The wired war room is now a requirement in politics, and campaigns can't afford to be merely aware of the Internet anymore. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his campaign found out why.
In January, a YouTube user who goes by the handle SoThisIsWashington uploaded a video titled "The Real Romney?" The video begins with a placard reading "Mitt Romney, October 1994." Then it reads, "On Abortion."
In the video, Mitt Romney is sharing a debate stage with Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, and espoused his pro-choice and pro-gay rights positions. "You will not see me wavering on that," Romney says in the video.
But he did. Romney is now officially pro-life and not a proponent of gay marriage, and many political pundits agree that if Romney is to win the Republican nomination, conservative primary voters need to believe his positions on those issues will not waver again.
The Romney Campaign war room found the YouTube video on Jan. 9, the day it was posted, Romney's director of online communication Stephen Smith told me. And they found it again and again on conservative blogs across the internet.
Quickly, Smith said, the campaign decided to act.
On Jan. 10 the campaign posted a video to YouTube called "Gov. Romney on '94 Debate w/ Kennedy." It shows Romney taking a call from Instapundit.com's "The Glenn & Helen Show" in which the Republican hopeful encourages voters to review what he calls his conservative record on social issues.
The campaign move worked. The same conservative blogs linking to Romney's debate with Kennedy soon began linking to the governor's YouTube response.
"We are watching and paying attention. We didn't need news cycles to tell us this was something that needed a response. We were able to watch and respond within a couple of hours and not days and weeks," Smith said.
This example highlights the importance of campaigns being wired and ready. For the 2008 race, presidential campaign strategists are already taking different approaches to putting their candidates on the Internet. They're not settling for traditional and static Web properties. They're as intent on developing the social Web properties as private sector.
In February, the Obama campaign launched its own social network called my.barackobama.com.
A spokesperson from the Obama campaign said that, although the campaign wants users to exchange ideas with each other through the site, the campaign won't actively use the user-contributed content on its site as a way to determine which issues are important to supporters.
McCain's campaign has also added a social-networking flair to his site. Called McCain Space, the network's users will even get a chance to pit their NCAA men's basketball tournament brackets against the McCain's.
And Democratic hopeful John Edwards maintains profiles on at least 24 different social Web properties on such sites as del.icio.us and Facebook.
It's a long road to November 2008, but the campaign war rooms are wired and ready to go.
Each has its own approach, but the goal to become president is the same. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how well the candidates' keep up with the pace of change that Web 2.0 maintains.
Nicholas Carlson is senior associate editor of internetnews.com.