Democrats are hoping they’ve found a secret weapon for winning back the House in 2012: Twitter.
House Democrats say that while they may be outnumbered, they stand to come out ahead by becoming more savvy to social media to stay more directly connected to the public.
“We know that we’re up against a team of about 43 think tanks on the other side. ... But when you engage them in a good debate, they’re shallow. They have no other place to go except to keep saying the same things over and over again,” Rep. Mike Honda told attendees of the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in February.
The California Democrat pointed to the roles that Twitter and Facebook have played in affecting political climates, most recently in the context of the government upheaval in Egypt and labor disputes in Wisconsin. Democrats should harness that same potential when it comes to developing an effective messaging strategy this cycle, Honda said.
“I think when we have more air time and utilize technology ... we can focus on getting control back of Congress in 2012,” he said.
Honda was one of 20 Democrats who took part last week in a Twitter town hall, an hourlong forum that involved fielding Twitter questions about the budget debate. Democrats used the event to bash Republicans for their “irresponsible spending bill” and, by the end, said the success of the event was evident by its ranking on Twitter: The hashtag that people used to follow the event, #AskDems, was ranked the third most discussed topic nationally.
“Members of Congress need to go where ‘We the People’ are, and that increasingly means social media platforms like Twitter,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who helped organize the event. “Public research helped create the Internet; it’s about time public servants utilized it to its fullest potential.”
Honda, co-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus New Media Working Group, is launching a new media mentoring program in the near future. And House Democrats, led by Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), are kicking off a monthly “blogger open house” this wek where Members can stop by during a two-hour period to talk to bloggers about what is going on in Congress.
Rank-and-file Democrats aren’t the only ones pushing for expanded use of social media. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) participated in last week’s town hall, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) held a first-ever “speed geeking” session — like speed dating, but for technology, aides said — for Members last week. During the session, Democrats rotated around the room for quick briefings on how Facebook and Twitter work and why they are key tools for reaching their constituents.
A Democratic leadership aide described the event as a “nice hands-on training” for Members less familiar with social media, and it even led to one Member signing up for Twitter on the spot: @DelegateDonna (Democratic Del. Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands).
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.