Republican technology strategists are pushing back at the commonly held belief that Democrats understand digital campaign tools better than they do.
“I don’t think there’s a big missile gap between what the Republicans and Democrats are doing,” John Philips, CEO of the technology consulting firm Aristotle, said at a Politico Pro event on Wednesday.
Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign became known for its tech acumen, and the president's 2012 digital team has swelled with strategists who have gathered the latest tools along with information on millions of potential voters.
Likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney's campaign, meanwhile, has heavily emphasized more-traditional TV advertising, while its digital campaign has been criticized for missteps, such as misspelling “America” in an app.
But Republicans, while acknowledging Obama’s advantages as an incumbent with many resources, nevertheless insist they “get” today’s digital campaign tools as well as any Democrat.
“Obama does have a head start, but I don’t think he understands it better than us,” Ryan Meerstein, a senior political analyst for Targeted Victory, which works with the Romney campaign, said at another panel discussion on politics and technology held earlier this week.
Unlike Obama, Romney had to endure a brutal primary season, Meerstein argued. As the presumptive Republican nominee, Romney can now pour more resources into digital efforts, he said.
Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee, agreed. He said that the GOP has begun to devote “a ton” of resources to finding out what digital tools work best.
As a businessman, Romney understands the value of online advertising, said Rob Saliterman, a former Bush administration official who now heads Google’s outreach to Republican political campaigns.
“Even with all the advantages the Obama campaign has, I think Republicans will absolutely be able to compete with them,” he said.
A recent study by the research and consulting firm Borrell Associates predicted that online spending would be six times higher than in 2008, reaching about $160 million. But that would still be less than 2 percent of all campaign spending.
Strategists say that 2012 will be marked by increasingly professional digital campaigns, as each party devotes more and more resources to online tools.
“This will be the first truly digital election,” Spicer said.
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