Republican Candidates Take to the Web in the Battle for Iowa

Republican presidential hopefuls are turning to the web and social media as weapons in the war to win Iowa.

On Jan. 3, Iowa Republican caucus-goers will pick their choice for presidential nominee. One of the seven remaining candidates will move a step closer to becoming the GOP’s choice to run against President Barack Obama in 2012. What online strategies are each of the candidates using to ensure that Iowa votes their way?

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Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney’s digital team has been hard at work in the Hawkeye State. They released a YouTube video explaining the caucus, a process known to cause confusion for first-timers. Romney is using Storify to share information about campaign stops and post behind-the-scenes pictures as he tours Iowa. The campaign is using popular services like FourSquare and Tout to engage supporters.

Zac Moffatt, Romney’s digital director, said that the campaign is using data collected over 6 months to coordinate their geolocation-based digital effort. According to Moffatt, they’re using pre-roll video footage — short advertisements placed before other video content — in an effort to show Iowians how and where to caucus.

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Moffatt understands how to use social media and digital advertising to generate offline action. The Romney campaign has identified supporters online, and gotten them in the door to volunteer in the real world.

“It’s fine for people to talk about how great social is,” said Moffatt, “but you have to leverage offline.”

Ron Paul

Ron Paul has a huge online following, and his campaign is seeking to tap into that precious resource.

Paul’s website,, features a donation drive with the goal of raising $6 million “to win in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada.” The campaign originally called for $4 million, but it upped the ante after surpassing that mark. The widget automatically shows recent donations along with donors’ names.

For those in Iowa, Paul’s site provides a number to call to hit the streets and volunteer. Another system allows out-of-state Paul supporters to dial into Iowa to encourage caucus-goers to vote for Paul.

Facebook users who “like” Paul’s page have been seeing an abundance of photos and links to live streams of Paul events in Iowa in their news feeds.

According to The New York Times, the Paul campaign has been asking its volunteers not to tweet about their activities or share them on any other social networks, presumably for fear of providing other campaigns with sensitive insider info.

Rick Santorum

Visitors to Rick Santorum’s website,, will find his “Iowa Surprise Moneybomb” donation page, complete with a countdown to the Iowa caucus. Like Paul’s page, the widget also automatically increases and proudly displays the names of donors. It also offers a widget for supporters to embed on their own personal websites and encourages donors to post about their donation on social networks.

His featured photos on Facebook are of a recent pheasant hunting trip in Adel, Iowa, a subtle appeal to Iowans. Santorum has been tweeting mentions of the word “Iowa” more often than other other candidate aside from Michelle Bachmann.

Santorum’s digital team is still being haunted by his “Google problem.” The first hit when searching for “Santorum” isn’t a campaign website or WikiPedia article. Instead, it’s a crude joke started by columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage in response to Santorum’s controversial comments about homosexuality made in 2003. Santorum asked Google to remove the search result this year, but Google has yet to do so.

Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich’s campaign website,, asks visitors to donate and make calls. Blog posts written about campaigning in Iowa are featured on the main page, and visitors can find more about upcoming Gingrich appearances.

Gingrich’s Facebook page offers many unique tabs and widgets. “Team 10,” a reference to the 10th amendment, is a unique crowdsourcing platform where users vote on which issues Gingrich should bring to the forefront of his campaign. Through these interactive features, Gingrich has built a vibrant online community of fans who interact with each other on his page.

However, aside from the prompt for phone calls, blog posts and a few tweets, Newt’s online strategy doesn’t show an obvious Iowa-focused strategy.

Rick Perry

Rick Perry’s website,, also opens with a donation drive and countdown to the Iowa caucus, but no tallying widget or donor shout-outs are to be found. Perry’s site offers a unique question to visitors: “Do you blog?” Bloggers who support Perry are encouraged to add Perry widgets and graphics to their personal site. The site has an “Iowa Action Center,” where visitors are greeted with a 30-second clip of Perry’s travels through the state and a call to action to get involved with the caucus. There’s a Google Map featuring Perry’s campaign bus stops, but it isn’t easily readable.

Perry’s Facebook page has an “Iowa” tab, which shows users a simple “I will caucus for Rick Perry!” option along with Perry’s controversial “Strong” YouTube video.

Twitter is where the Perry campaign has been fighting hardest to win support in Iowa. @TeamRickPerry started “#PizzaBomb” Thursday, asking supporters to donate slices of pizza to Perry’s “Iowa Strike Force HQ.”

Michelle Bachmann

Michelle Bachmann’s website,, is chock-full of information about the Iowa caucus. Visitors can find out how and where to caucus and purchase a “caucus kit,” featuring campaign swag dedicated to Iowa. Bachmann is on an ambitious tour of all 99 counties in Iowa before the caucus, and she’s keeping a blog, posting videos and tweeting prolifically about the tour.

Bachman’s Facebook fans have been receiving a steady stream of Iowa-related posts and can view a “Caucus Countdown” tab which lets fans sign up to caucus or volunteer for Bachmann in Iowa.

Jon Huntsman

Jon Huntsman is choosing largely to ignore Iowa and focus on New Hampshire instead, where a primary is scheduled for Jan. 10. Huntsman’s website and social media accounts reflect that decision. His site,, offers a “countdown to New Hampshire,” which encourages supporters to donate to his efforts there. The Huntsman website is unique in that it also calls on supporters to call in to talk radio shows broadcasting in New Hampshire to spread the Huntsman message.

Huntsman is attempting an ongoing “Twitter Takeover,” which asks supporters to make sure Huntsman’s name is mentioned on the micro-blogging service at least 1,000 times each day. The widget on the page isn’t moderated, however, so plenty of negative tweets about Huntsman appear on his site.

Will These Efforts Pay Off?

Will the candidates’ online efforts make a major difference during the Iowa caucus on Jan. 3? We’ll be doing additional coverage featuring social media sentiment analysis, national polling data and caucus results early next week.

This story originally published on Mashable here.

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