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Title: Rand Paul’s Internet Army
Source: Politico
URL Source: http://www.politico.com/magazine/st ... -117132_full.html#.VTlck90UUWM
Published: Apr 23, 2015
Post Date: 2015-04-23 17:57:56 by Hondo68
Keywords: None
Views: 3158
Comments: 4

Welcome to the front lines of the battle for your Facebook news feed.

Vincent Harris wants details, and he’s not getting them. The 26-year-old political consultant is quizzing two Facebook guys who’ve showed up at the Austin headquarters of his media firm, and all he’s getting back is a pat lecture about the value of social networking for online campaigns.

Harris and the dozen staffers gathered in his company’s conference room don’t exactly need to be convinced: This is what they do. And by the time the 2016 presidential campaign is over, these twentysomethings expect to be paid millions of dollars for doing it well. They already spend all day everyday on the digital front lines, producing content—videos, graphics, games—tailored specifically for Facebook, tallying likes and clicks, dissecting what caught fire and what fell flat. They already get why Facebook matters. What they want to know is how to crack the code.

“Is 23 seconds the ideal video length?” Harris asks, interrupting the well-rehearsed presentation. The most successful Facebook videos often clock in at 15 to 30 seconds, and Harris read a study suggesting 23 seconds might be the sweet spot. The answer from the Facebook rep veers toward the philosophical, and Harris tunes out after a few seconds, tapping at his iPhone instead. He gets a message.

“The Meerkat guy is here,” Harris announces abruptly, rising from his seat. The Facebook pair exchange a look.

The Meerkat Guy, whose name is Ryan Cooley, has popped in to make the case that the new, Twitter-based video-streaming application could be useful to digital politics shops like Harris Media, which has amassed a marquee roster of conservative clients, from Sarah Palin to Rand Paul, and established itself as the buzziest GOP firm of the cycle. Cooley is wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with a cartoon of the friendly-looking African mongoose. Harris leads him into his office, closes the door, and minutes later, the two are furiously meerkatting—a verb that did not exist a few weeks prior and, given Twitter’s recent purchase of Meerkat competitor Periscope, one that may rapidly fade from the vernacular.

For the moment, at least, the Meerkat Guy is the purveyor of cutting-edge coolness, and Harris doesn’t hide his excitement over the clever app. He tells the Meerkat Guy that he wants his client Rand Paul to be the first presidential contender to use it; Harris is so bullish on the Kentucky senator that, last November, he ditched Senator Ted Cruz, the client who put him on the map, to work for the rival campaign—and he knows exactly how to help win over Paul, who also attended Baylor University, to an untested new tool: “Can you bring him a shirt? That would help,” Harris says. “Rand loves shirts.”

Harris then begins texting an adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister of Israel had hired Harris and his team to help with his down-to-the-wire reelection bid; one of Harris’ colleagues is living temporarily in Israel to work on the campaign and Harris will arrive in the country for the critical hours right before votes are cast. The Israeli election has been a good opportunity to test out online experiments that Harris hopes to use to make Paul stand out in the crowded GOP field here in the United States. It’s also Harris’ first time on the international stage—where he will go head-to-head with Jeremy Bird, the celebrated online organizing architect of both Barack Obama victories, who is working to oust Netanyahu’s government. “Meerkat would be great to use for the PM,” Harris texts Tel Aviv.

After the Meerkat Guy departs, Harris is still on a high. “This is what I live for,” he says, grinning. “It’s another step in the history of technology.”

There are bigger digital operations than Harris Media, on the right. But none has managed to sign up as many marquee names as this 23-person office. | Ben Sklar for Politico Magazine


When the history of the 2016 presidential campaign is written, Harris hopes he’ll play a starring role, that online micro-victories like getting Rand Paul to meerkat (Netanyahu, alas, never did) will encourage online fundraising, boost get-out-the-vote efforts and return the GOP to the White House. He hopes along the way to catch up after a decade of Republican digital neglect that has seen the party repeatedly outclassed and out-organized online, delivering fame, money and power to rival Democratic Internet strategists and Obama to the White House twice.

It wasn’t always that way: Karl Rove’s micro-targeting operation helped push George W. Bush across the finish line in Ohio in 2004, giving Democrats fits. But the GOP has been struggling ever since to catch up. This is not merely about consultant bragging rights but also about communicating with voters at a time when they’re rapidly abandoning the traditional media channels by which candidates have reached them. They may not be meerkatting in droves, but social media and email are increasingly among the best ways to reach voters, competing against 30-second television ads, direct mail fliers, campaign phone banks and evening newscasts. To reach an electorate glued to their iPhones, the 2016 presidential candidates need people like Harris, and lots of them.

Melissa Golden for Politico Magazine

It won’t be easy. The GOP simply doesn’t have the broad base of tech talent that the Democrats have built up, and that gap persists as the smaller teams Republicans have hired means fewer experienced staffers for future campaigns. The party has a much smaller pool of both midlevel campaign staff and senior leaders who are well-versed in the possibilities of technology—so few, in fact, that most tech-savvy Republicans, like Harris, eschew working for campaigns in-house and instead run their own consulting firms to allow them to contribute to multiple campaigns at once. The demand is too high and the money on the open market is too enticing; the firm run by Zac Moffatt, the digital director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, was paid nearly $10 million by the Republican congressional and Senate campaign committees in the 2014 midterm elections and was one of the top 30 vendors in the entire cycle across both parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. “If you’re good, you don’t have to be good for very long to leave the party infrastructure and go out on [your] own,” says one veteran GOP political operative, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the party’s shortcomings. “It makes complete objective sense for them, but long term, it has handicapped the party’s growth.”

In a seller’s market like this, not everything is worth the price: Two major candidates—Jeb Bush and Scott Walker—have already had to fire top tech strategists when online furors arose about the strategists’ old tweets. And Ted Cruz’s otherwise celebrated launch at Liberty University was marred by stories about how he had failed to secure obvious website URLs for his campaign like tedcruz.com, leading to days of negotiations with cyber squatters. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign, drawing from the large pool of Obama digital veterans, is bragging about hiring as many as 1,000 to its tech team nationwide, which would make it three times larger than Obama’s in 2012. The last time she ran for president, in 2008, she had roughly 30.

To beat her—or whomever the Democratic Party picks as its nominee—the GOP is going to need an adventurous candidate who’s willing to wade into uncharted online waters, be it Meerkat or whatever next year’s hot new thing turns out to be, and Harris believes he’s found the ideal candidate in Rand Paul. The Web, which celebrates its culture of disruption, has always benefited insurgent candidates over establishment ones—think not just Obama over Clinton, but unknowns like Howard Dean in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary and Ned Lamont in the 2006 Connecticut Senate race. So why not Rand Paul, the quirky ophthalmologist-turned-senator with the libertarian dad and the pitch to millennials that he’s on a mission to expand the party? “People are going to be watching and trying to call our bluff,” Harris says. “Are you really as digital and tech-friendly as you’re saying?”


The dream ended for Mitt Romney on a pale beige hotel couch in Boston. On the evening of November 6, 2012, Romney, an iPad resting on his knees, listened as his campaign manager explained that they would fall short in Ohio and therefore lose the election. “What do you say—what do you think to say in a concession speech?” Romney asks the silent, sullen assembly of family members and advisers.

That scene, preserved in the documentary Mitt, is telling: Romney thought he was going to win. One reason for that unwarranted confidence might be that, according to post-election reports, his campaign didn’t have very good visibility into its own performance—it had just a handful of data analysts on the payroll while the Obama campaign employed 50. Another reason the Obama campaign may have done such an effective job turning out the vote in competitive states is that it reportedly had amassed 20 million email addresses while Romney had a paltry 2 to 3 million.

And on Election Day itself, what was supposed to be the Romney campaign’s secret weapon—an online get-out-the-vote tool code-named Orca, developed at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars and meant to help Romney’s Boston headquarters monitor and boost turnout across the country—crashed spectacularly, leaving the Romney campaign blind about its performance in key precincts, just at the moment it most needed to know. The Romney campaign, it seemed safe to say, was just not wired for the digital moment: According to a study by the University of North Carolina, it required approval from 22 staffers before a single tweet could be sent.

So have Republicans learned their lesson? Julia Smekalina thinks so. She’s a strategist for IMGE, a Virginia-based outfit that has worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Governors Association. Smekalina points to how digital strategists are now among the first advisers brought on to a candidate’s team. “It’s now a primary seat at the table, and that’s hugely encouraging for us and for the party in general,” she says. “I think we’ve come a long way, and I think the gap isn’t even there at all anymore.”

Joe Rospars, chief digital strategist for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and the founder and CEO of Blue State Digital, says he’s been hearing for years that Republicans have supposedly seen the pixelated light. “It’s become an inside joke,” he says. “‘OK, it’s time for a new round of getting our shit together from the RNC,’ and what’s more likely is that it’s an exercise in people trying to build their reputations and get paid in the revolving door of consultants that have been through the top tier of Republican politics.”

Moffatt, the Romney 2012 digital director who co-founded the GOP media firm Targeted Victory, swears this time it’s different. However, when asked if he thinks those in the party’s leadership are going to listen more attentively to the pleadings of their digital advisers this go-around, he’s suddenly more circumspect: “I hope so, because if we don’t, we’re going to be in a very tough position again.”


The decor of the Capital Factory in downtown Austin is spare techie chic: concrete floors, exposed ventilation, whiteboards and widescreens. Its occupants include startups like Swimtopia, which provides online tools for swim-team coaches, and Albino Dragon, a game company that offers, among other products, Breaking Bad-themed playing cards. Now add to that eclectic roster a satellite office for the presidential campaign of a first-term senator from Kentucky—a tiny red dot in a blue city in a very red state.

Rand Paul himself appeared at the Capital Factory on a Monday morning following a weekend at March’s South-by-Southwest festival, where he hobnobbed with lanyard-draped tech entrepreneurs and hung out at a Mark Ronson show. The night before, he had fielded questions on Twitter while seated in front of a Twitter-branded backdrop as a small audience looked on, taking shots along the way at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Security Agency and Hillary Clinton. “I’m a constitutional conservative,” he tweeted. “Libertarianish. Have a foot in both camps.”

In the flesh, Paul can seem stiff and serious, but online, he stays loose and cracks wise. He tweeted illustrations of a royal crown and scepter to Barack Obama, which he dubbed the “‘president who thinks he’s a king’ starter pack.” It was an idea cooked up by Harris’ team and favorited or retweeted nearly 10,000 times. (The senator is “highly involved” in the campaign’s social media, Harris says, and a half-dozen staffers have access to his feed and can post directly.) He’s the most prolific tweeter among the 2016 Republican hopefuls, and his roughly 600,000 followers to date is second in followers to Marco Rubio’s 720,000 and counting—although the entire GOP field combined is dwarfed on Twitter by Hillary Clinton’s more than 3 million followers.

Hours later, Harris was on a plane to Tel Aviv, even as his colleagues compiled a triumphant 45-second montage of Paul looking professorial in a mock white turtleneck and blazer, speaking into a microphone, gesticulating, having his photo taken and slipping on a pair of shades. A Bloomberg headline deemed Paul’s Austin trip “disruptive,” as if he were the Uber of presidential candidates. Oh, and he meerkatted too, becoming the first presidential contender to do so. Jeb Bush followed a few days afterward, late to the party.

How did Vincent Harris pull it off? There are certainly bigger digital operations even on the Republican side—Moffatt’s firm, Targeted Victory, has around 100 employees; Harris Media has 23 at the moment—but no one has managed to attract bigger names. Harris got his start writing at his own site, tooconservative.com, when he was in high school in Northern Virginia, where he grew up, then quickly graduated to helping blog and devise new-media strategy for Mike Huckabee during the former Arkansas governor’s 2008 presidential run. Harris made his mark in 2011, working on digital strategy for an underdog U.S. Senate candidate from Texas named Ted Cruz. In the 2012 campaign, he worked at various times for the presidential efforts of both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. Today, with Senator Paul and (successfully reelected) Prime Minister Netanyahu, his eponymous firm’s list of clients includes Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Sarah Palin, who no longer requires a title. (“The best speech I’ve ever heard in my life was her convention speech,” Harris says. “I get goosebumps. It’s like she’s my mom.”) Harris Media’s client roster has included dozens of other Republican notables: senators like Jim Inhofe, Rob Portman, Tim Scott and Bill Cassidy, as well as former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Allen West, various conservative super PACs and more than a score of GOP congressmen like Justin Amash, Tim Huelskamp, Mac Thornberry and Blake Farenthold.

McConnell alone paid the firm more than $2.6 million for digital strategy in his victorious reelection bid last year.

Netanyahu hired Harris (who won’t say for how much) after he flew to Israel to interview for the gig. “I feel like sometimes in American politics we have lost a sense of pride,” Harris says. “When you hear the prime minister say, ‘This is your country, come back to your country’—I’m not Jewish and I get excited.” In the days leading up to Netanyahu’s victory, Harris’ team relied heavily on Facebook posts (“It’s a Facebook-first country,” Harris says), and aggressively collected voter contacts. When viewers in Israel watched the livestream on Bibi’s campaign site of Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress, they were prompted to give their email addresses—never mind the public assurances that the speech was primarily about the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks, not the looming election. Cool new apps aside, good old email remains, as any digital strategist will attest, the primary way of soliciting donations and “activating” a candidate’s supporters.

Harris believes some of the lessons learned from the Netanyahu campaign will be of use in the run-up to the 2016 election. “I think that where it’s most similar is with a contentious presidential primary because you are trying to push your own message while remembering that you have a coalition that you have to build and that you have to govern once you win,” he says. “How do you brand yourself and draw this contrast while not offending anybody?”

It’s a question, actually, that Harris has been struggling to answer for his own firm. Just as he seemed to be hitting his stride and building a roster of boldfaced Republicans, Harris abandoned Cruz last fall after three years to work for Paul. Asked why, Harris says simply that Rand Paul is the candidate who’s the best fit “for this time in my life.” “People in D.C. just want to win. I want to win with the right people and the right message and the right issues,” he says. They also share a background: Not only did both attend Baylor University, but they were members of the secret society known as the NoZe Brotherhood, famous on campus for its Groucho Marx disguises and for publishing the satirical newspaper, the Rope.

Every Thursday, the Harris Media staff meets to review everything they’ve posted and talk about what’s working. | Ben Sklar for Politico Magazine

Harris stops short, though, of badmouthing Cruz, whose campaign and PAC paid his firm six figures in 2014 to help lay the groundwork for this year’s presidential bid. Harris instead talks about wanting to work for the candidate who has the best chance of winning the general. “I love Senator Cruz, and he’s beloved,” Harris says. “But people never showed up at my office wanting to work for Senator Cruz. We’ve had people just show up and say, ‘I love Rƒand. How can I help Rand?’ People are finding my cellphone. We have a hungry base of support. We have to build an infrastructure that channels the energy.”

Since the news went public that Paul had hired Harris Media, the company has been flooded with résumés—thanks in part to the senator’s father, Ron, whose dedicated fan base was heavily populated by young techies. Even though he has never come close to the White House, Ron Paul tapped the libertarian philosophy that undergirds much of the tech industry to raise record-setting amounts of online cash—including $4 million in a single day in November 2007, one of a number of digital pushes that came to be known as Ron Paul “moneybombs.”

Melissa Golden for Politico Magazine

It’s a model that Paul’s son and Harris hope to emulate, combining that online libertarian fervor with a more mainstream candidate to play the spoiler against establishment candidates like Jeb Bush. A moneybomb timed to Rand Paul’s formal April 7 presidential announcement raised more than $1.1 million.

In advance of that announcement, the campaign had to shell out a pretty penny (Harris won’t say how much, but some reports said $125,000) to secure randpaul.com. Chrischristie.com belongs to a Milwaukee-based computer programmer by that name, and jebbushforpresident.com is the home page of a gay couple named CJ and Charlie, self-described members of the “bear” community. How much does getting the right address matter? More than you think, according to Harris. “The majority of traffic to our sites comes from people typing URLs into browsers,” he says. “It’s important for SEO reasons, for security reasons, and there’s just looking like you properly understand how average voters search for you.”

The digital war for 2016—for supporters, donations and, eventually, votes—will be waged here, inside our Web browsers and our smartphones. What start out as silly conversations about fluffy animated GIFs quickly turn into serious discussions about metrics, A/B testing, search engines and algorithms. The funny videos and viral tweets, after all, are really about collecting names, emails, credit card information to attract online donations and data that will get out the vote.

“You’re never going to hit a magical moment where all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘I’ve got a silver bullet. We should only do videos that are 17 seconds long that look exactly like this,’” says Katie Harbath, former head of digital strategy for the NRSC. In 2011, she was hired by Facebook as a liaison between the social media giant and the political universe to help campaigns target their Facebook advertising better. As she says, “What’s considered a best practice now might not be the exact same best practice that we tell them a year and a half from now.”

Those best practices also have to be directed at the right people. Mindy Finn is a GOP digital strategist who went to work for Twitter around the same time as Harbath joined Facebook, and recently left there to work for the Republican National Committee. She says interpreting online response to a particular video or advertisement or meme isn’t solely about the size of the audience you reach. “It’s not just raw numbers,” Finn says. “It’s analyzing and determining who those people are and matching them back to voter profiles. That’s where digital has really matured. It’s not having the most Facebook likes and clicks, because the ‘who’ matters.”

At the RNC, Finn is building on the foundation established last year by Chuck DeFeo, who was the committee’s deputy chief of staff and chief digital officer last election cycle and whose overhaul of its digital operation in 2014 often gets mentioned as one reason for the party’s midterm triumph. “There’s still that education process of getting campaigns to use it and understand how to use it. That takes time. That’s still the one area that we haven’t yet caught up” on, DeFeo says.

At the party level, DeFeo also spent last year launching and leading different initiatives, including a new Silicon-Valley-style GOP tech incubator named Para Bellum Labs (Latin for “prepare for war”), and helping to hire engineering and data science teams that the GOP has never had before.

This may not sound scintillating, but it’s increasingly critical. Talk to any political tech guru long enough, and you’ll hear the iceberg analogy. Moffatt trots it out. So does DeFeo. The idea is that political tech is like an iceberg: What’s visible is only a fraction of the whole and the serious business takes place out of sight. So while the easily distracted blab about the latest Facebook trick or YouTube stunt, what gets ignored are the databases of voter profiles which need to be centralized and integrated in order to be effectively deployed. It’s the boring stuff that actually matters.

DeFeo recently became vice president of i360, a data operation for conservative candidates bankrolled by the Koch brothers. The company is basically a warehouse of voter information that can be purchased by campaigns and claims to know things about more than 250 million of us—in other words, more or less everybody. i360 markets a mobile app that promises to help volunteers knocking on doors to proceed directly to the households most likely to vote for a particular candidate. If they know, for instance, that you’re a big Second Amendment supporter, you might be worth a doorbell ring. If you subscribe to Mother Jones, then maybe not.

This is the sort of information infrastructure that DeFeo believes wins elections. Barack Obama, after all, didn’t win the White House because he had a better Facebook page than Mitt Romney—he won because he knew how to target his supporters, where they were and how to motivate them to vote. “Being really good at having some creative ideas for your Facebook news feed, taking advantage of the news cycle and really moving on opportunities—those are important tactical aspects of a well-run digital operation,” DeFeo says. “But in the long term when you’re in an organization that’s focused on getting 51 percent of the vote, you have to be able to think through how every form of voter contact—television, field program, digital—ties back to a data platform.”

Melissa Golden for Politico Magazine

Patrick Ruffini puts it more bluntly. Ruffini worked as the webmaster for President George W. Bush in 2004, the last time the Republicans won the White House—when Facebook as we know it didn’t exist and Twitter wasn’t even a twinkle. “People are going to be fixated on shiny objects rather than genuine progress,” says Ruffini, who founded the digital agency Engage. “When people tend to conflate digital and data, or people tend to conflate social and something else, and a campaign starts getting press for being really good on data because they run a good Facebook page, that’s when the coverage goes off the rails. Then people start believing their good press.”

Those jabs are probably intended for Harris, who of late has gotten his share of good press. He made a name for himself in GOP circles by knowing how to work the angles of social media.

Harris quickly turns defensive when asked whether his team is up to the task of competing against the Democratic Party’s formidable data operation. Hillary Clinton is expected to inherit many of the databases and architects of Obama’s 2008 and 2012 efforts.

Harris notes that his company took Mitch McConnell’s Senate reelection campaign digital, integrating mobile apps used by volunteers with email and other lists, creating databases, overseeing the entire process from “soup to nuts.” Plus, he points out that you have to persuade voters to give you their information before you can enter what they’ve told you into a computer program. “Look, how do you build a database? You build a database with enthusiasm. How do you build enthusiasm? With a message. How do you push a message? With social media,” he says. “This is all connected.”

To collect what’s working each week, the Harris Media staff gathers for Thursday learning sessions. It’s also a chance for Harris to review everything that’s been posted for each of their clients. Glancing at his MacBook, which sports a Rand sticker over the Apple logo, Harris notices they’ve started a contest on Facebook for Senator David Vitter’s Louisiana gubernatorial campaign where the prize is free ammunition. “I didn’t know we were doing win-a-box-of-ammo,” he says. “That’s funny.”

The team Harris has assembled in Austin is a far cry from the stuffier staffers on Capitol Hill. Amid the beanbag chairs and iMacs, there’s Chasen Campbell, who is in charge of crafting advertising strategies and took the lead in McConnell’s win, and whose belted khaki shorts and tucked-in polo shirt make him appear to be the only adult in the room, even though he’s just a couple years out of undergrad. The firm’s creative director, Bryan Boutwell, who designed Palin’s website, moonlights as a DJ and looks the part.

All of them are on the constant hunt for something new, as the media world and audience’s attention spans become more fractured by the day. Recently, Harris Media has been toying with Facebook graphics that move slightly—words fading in or icons shifting to one side—a sort of hybrid between videos and still images. These seem to grab people’s attention and they’re simple to create.

Unlike some more cautious clients, Paul is game for experimenting online and being cheekier than your average would-be commander in chief. Around the time of the Super Bowl, Harris’ team posted a pattern on Paul’s Facebook feed for making paper footballs with “Rand 2016” on one side and “Liberty” on the other. You might ask who would take the time to print a Rand Paul-themed pattern, follow the instructions, fold it into neat little triangles and photograph their handiwork. A fair number, it turns out. And because it’s the Internet, people stuck their paper footballs on their catsdogs and, in at least one instance, a plate of nachos.

On Valentine’s Day, the Harris team tried something more controversial than paper footballs. The company created a mock Pinterest page for Hillary Clinton, complete with a fake heart-covered card bearing the slogan “I’ve Benghazing at you!” and photos of the new, ornate white desk she hoped to put in the Oval Office post-election. “Using stereotypes of women to mock a woman? How terribly novel and witty,” one Washington Post blogger wrote. Pinterest took the page down.

A misfire? No way, says Harris. “If you’re ruffling Hillary Clinton’s people’s feathers, that’s a success,” he insists.

As for whether it’s all too lightweight for an aspiring leader of the free world, Harris sees it this way: Sedate five-paragraph press releases never get liked on Facebook. Getting on the front page of the New York Times may still matter inside the Beltway, but getting into voters’ Facebook feeds will actually help win the election. “I think the message has to be entertaining to even be persuasive,” he says.


Working quickly online—the never-ending pressure to post something new, to stay ahead of the conversation—is a constant balancing act, and Harris hasn’t been immune to its pratfalls. Last February, while ghost-tweeting on the account of Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, Harris left out a couple of crucial letters. “To my detriment, I was working too fast though and trying to multi task,” he wrote in a blog post a year later. “Five minutes later I got a call from one of the Senator’s staff, that the tweet I had sent accidentally contained a mistake. A big mistake.”

This was it: “MARRIAGE= ONE MAN & ONE MAN. Enough of these activist judges. FAVORITE if you agree. I know the silent majority out there is with us!”

Needless to say, Patrick did not exclusively endorse marriage between men. The tweet was mocked mercilessly. The campaign quickly posted a second tweet saying that Patrick’s office was now taking résumés for a social-media intern (Harris’ name wasn’t associated with the screw-up until he posted his recent mea culpa on his blog). It blew over, but not before Patrick was turned into a national punch line.

Such occasional errors are probably unavoidable when, like Harris, you believe in what might be called “The Gospel According to BuzzFeed.” That site, which Harris loves and wishes to emulate, generates endless material: listicles and videos and quizzes, along with thoughtful long-form narratives. Harris thinks candidates should be posting a new video, if not every day, then almost every day. Some will get shared broadly and become part of the conversation. Most will fizzle and fade. The point is that new media is a volume business. “I’m most concerned here about execution and pushing things out,” Harris says. “What happens afterward is as important but I can’t affect that much. I can leak something to a blog or put money behind it, but we’re concerned with churning out the content.” On the day Paul entered the race in April, Facebook logged nearly 2 million “interactions” related to the candidate—comments, likes, shares. In the days leading up to his announcement, his online minions posted a slick campaign video making the case for his candidacy, along with a candid snap of the senator in shorts atop a riding lawn mower. Among the most popular comments: “You going to cut the grass when you live in the White House?” But there were misfires too: An online map purporting to show supporters who had endorsed Paul actually featured stock photos of people pulled from a German photographer’s website. The photos were quickly removed.

Today, while most of Harris Media’s staff is unknown, anonymous fingers behind websites, Twitter handles and Facebook feeds, each of them knows that a few errant keystrokes can turn into a campaign minicrisis. As digital strategists start playing more visible roles in national campaigns, they often find themselves, and what they’ve written online, under sudden scrutiny, usually from opposition researchers digging for the handiest cudgel. Even before the presidential election season officially began, there were two prominent casualties among the GOP digerati.

Each weekday afternoon, Harris and about half his staff gather on the asphalt to work out together. | Ben Sklar for Politico Magazine

One was Ethan Czahor. Hired by Jeb Bush’s campaign as the chief technology officer, Czahor stepped down after he was caught deleting scores of mildly offensive, several-year-old tweets. For example: “most people don’t know that ‘Halloween’ is German for ‘night that girls with low self-esteem dress like sluts.’” Although he swore that he had matured and that he didn’t find the tweets funny anymore, the ax fell swiftly. Czahor couldn’t resist a parting blow, tweeting: “i apologize in advance to whoever fills my position.”

Another casualty was Liz Mair, one of the party’s most respected digital strategists. She was on Scott Walker’s payroll for roughly one day before resigning under pressure after a couple of tweets critical of Iowa agriculture’s reliance on federal subsidies and on its power in the primaries. The controversy around her was so intense and the Walker team backpedaled so quickly that, after being told to quit, Mair turned in her resignation letter directly to the Associated Press. She explained in a tweet after her dismissal, “I was not calling Iowans morons. And if you read the tweet, and look at the online discussion around the time it was made, that’s obvious.” But that didn’t matter. Context evaporates online in the heat of outsize outrage.

The ceaseless workflow and the stress of the online news cycle exacts a toll. Harris describes coping not long ago with what he describes as nearly a panic attack. Last year, after the tweet mishap, Harris started following the trendy paleo diet (lots of meat and vegetables, no bread and sugar), quit drinking beer and lost about 40 pounds. Each weekday at 4 p.m., in the parking lot behind the Harris Media offices, Harris and about half his staff gather on the asphalt to work out. He says he’s thinking more clearly and that his stress is more manageable now that he’s healthier. But it’s still there. And, if he’s lucky, it’s not going away any time before Election Day.

Tom Bartlett is a writer in Austin, Texas.

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#1. To: hondo68 (#0)

Who gives a schitt about Twitter or Facebook anyway??

“Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rapidly promoted by mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.”

CZ82  posted on  2015-04-24   6:30:22 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#2. To: CZ82 (#1)

Who gives a schitt about Twitter or Facebook anyway??

But Tebow is important?

The D&R terrorists hate us because we're free, to vote second party

"We (government) need to do a lot less, a lot sooner" ~Ron Paul

Hondo68  posted on  2015-04-24   10:18:21 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#3. To: CZ82 (#1)

Who gives a schitt about Twitter or Facebook anyway??

The same amoral generation who've been indoctrinated to believe that playing XBox and being able to game the system are resume highlights?

VxH  posted on  2015-04-25   10:24:39 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#4. To: hondo68 (#2)

Why should Tebow be ragged on just because he genuflects, it's not like he's doing anything perverted.

It just shows how stupid some people have become in today's society, and how much they need to be taken out behind the barn and have their ass beat.

“Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rapidly promoted by mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.”

CZ82  posted on  2015-04-25   15:42:16 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

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