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Reverse Engineering Scott Brown's Win: Breakthrough Field Apps and Age Old Political Arts

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, January 21 2010

What if, has gone the thought of every Democratic field staffer who has suffered through the inefficiencies of shuffling through paper-based "walk lists" as they shuffle through the streets, knocking on doors, we could use some of that fancy Internet know-how to make this easier? 21st century management of the flow of contact data has been, in some ways, the Holy Grail of back-end political technology. In the wake of Scott Brown's surprising victory in the Massachusetts special election, the emerging sentiment is that Republicans/conservatives may well be catching up to the left online. Here's a point in favor of the idea that, when you take into consideration the nuts-and-bolts of field campaigning (the stuff Democrats are supposed to be particularly good at), they're surpassing them.

The Atlantic's Chris Good has the story of Walking Edge, a mobile phone app reportedly used by the Brown campaign that makes voter contact lists mobile and two-way. The app, according to Good, was developed by a firm lead by John Weaver and other former top aids to John McCain that provides tech services to Republican candidates, and a few independents:

Here's one new election tool that's being employed in the Massachusetts Senate race: Walking Edge, a smartphone application and database that tells canvassers where undecided voters and candidate-supporters live, as they walk the streets.



The application works on smartphones that have GPS capabilities--Blackberries and iPhones, for instance--and it uses a Google Maps-based setup that lets canvassers see the addresses of nearby voters whose doors they can knock, plus specific information about those voters.

Along this same theme, techPresident contributor Patrick Ruffini (and Brown campaign consultant) is writing in the New York Post the particular genius of the Brown's campaign use of technology was that they used it to capture anti-Democrat, pro-Brown grassroots enthusiasm:

[I]n the battle between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party grassroots, all the momentum is now firmly on the side of the grassroots. Nowhere was this more apparent in the Massachusetts race than online. (Full disclosure, my company provided technology to the Brown campaign.) Brown raised over $12 million online in just 18 days in January. The single-day "moneybomb" that made news for raising $1.3 million wasn't even the first (or the second) heaviest online fund-raising day of his campaign.

Ironically, this torrent of online money, likely the largest for any nonpresidential candidate ever, came not in response to a top-down "ask" from the campaign, but emerged spontaneously after bloggers noticed a (partly inaccurate) article about the national GOP committees not investing in Brown's candidacy. From that day on, online activists were sold on the idea that they would make this happen on their own, with or without national party support. It was the ultimate blessing in disguise.

That said, Ruffini is among those who are urging caution about extracting grand interpretations from Brown's victory, online and off. Resist tool fetishism (here's looking at you, the Boston Pheonix headline that reads "The iPhone App that Killed Coakely"); you still have to have a candidate who embodies the prevailing sentiment of the electorate and run a very good campaign, Ruffini writes:

Scott Brown's historic victory in the Massachusetts special election might signal huge Republican victories and massive Democratic bloodletting up and down the ballot in November.

But the operative word is might.

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