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‘Binders Full of Women’ Illustrates Memes’ Power

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GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment at Tuesday night’s debate sparked a firestorm of related memes and trends on the Internet.

By now, Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” have been opened, parsed and closed.

But what happened in the hours after the former Massachusetts governor inadvertently spawned an online sensation in describing his efforts to hire women for his Cabinet may forever be seared in the minds of Web-savvy political strategists.

Mining such memes, a skill honed by the quirky communities on Reddit and Tumblr, has become an essential tool for messaging and fundraising as political action committees, outside interest groups and party committees on both sides of the aisle compete to harness the power of a trending phrase.

Just minutes after the Republican presidential candidate uttered the phrase during Tuesday’s debate, the liberal super PAC American Bridge 21st Century scooped up four domain names built around variations of the phrase. By 3 a.m. Wednesday, BindersFullofWomen.com — a website featuring briefs on Romney’s record on women’s issues — was fully operational. The next day, the PAC, which has raised $10.7 million so far this cycle, used the site as the basis for a fundraising appeal.

“Donate $10 or more right now and American Bridge will deliver a binder full of FACTS about women to Mitt Romney’s campaign headquarters,” Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the group’s chairwoman and a former lieutenant governor of Maryland, wrote in an email to supporters. A spokesman declined to discuss how much money the effort had raised.

In the meantime, PACs run by the AFL-CIO and EMILY’s List pushed the meme on their Facebook pages, racking up hundreds of “likes.” The union also targeted advertisements on Twitter to users who mentioned debate moderator Candy Crowley. Twitter handles, such as @RomneyBinders, and Tumblr themes built around the phrase attracted tens of thousands of followers. Other liberal groups such as Americans United for Change prepared fundraising pleas, citing Romney’s awkwardly phrased remark.

It was the most rewound and re-watched moment of the debate, according to TiVo Research and Analytics Inc. Still, the major takeaway is that it all happened in an instant.

“It has a short shelf life, which is why my reaction was to get something up quickly and be a place that people could go to ridicule the comment,” said Matt Ortega, a Democratic digital media strategist whose website — MittsBindersFullofWomen.com — was live by the end of the debate. “I was able to get it up quickly because I am not beholden to anyone’s approval.”

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