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Springtime for Republican Political Technology?

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, January 7 2010

Bob McDonnell's Virginia gubernatorial campaign was just one example of a maturing Republican political technology industry.

En route to McDonnell's victory, the new governor made heavy use of technology, from web tools built by Patrick Ruffini and Mindy Finn's company, Engage — which they'll talk about with Micah Sifry and PdF Network members in less than an hour on the latest PdF Network conference call — to the Tusk Mobile platform for mobile engagement. We covered that, too. Republican-only vendors also worked on the other big governor's race last year, the successful campaign to elect New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In a phone interview earlier this week, Ruffini also told me that he tested a fundraising widget in Jim Tedisco's unsuccessful special election campaign to become the next congressman from New York's 20th Congressional District.

Republican technological development is not just limited to elections. David All, a sometime techPresident contributor and an Internet genie for the American right, recently launched the Act.iv.ist Act.ivi.st platform, intended to be a dashboard for online activism. Your average Republican constituent can log in with their Facebook account and earn points for anything from filling out a form with the results of a call to a senator's office to donating money to a PAC. The points can be translated into rewards, but All says that's up to the client.

And all of this neglects to mention the Tea Party movement, that phenomenon of online conservatism that has used the Internet to organize disruptions at town hall meetings, massive rallies, and a hailstorm of blogging and activism on the web.

All says this online bloom in the GOP is the result of seeds planted years ago. He's been pushing for increased Republican use of the Internet and of social media since 2007, he says.

"We've been through an election cycle where we got whupped, you've seen a change of guard at the RNC, particularly with Chairman Steele who made the Internet a priority, he's brought in Saul Anuzis to head up a technology committee, and Todd Herman as the new media director," All said. "He's no pushover. He's a smart guy, knows what he's doing, and he's been able to move the ball forward quite a bit. Particularly with the culture. So I think what you're seeing is a maturation of the industry and a change [into a] culture of acceptance."

Ruffini says that in a way, necessity is the mother of this invention. Being out of power has pushed the party to try new things and find a way to succeed.

"[And] it's happening again," he says. He's working on for the campaign for Scott Brown, the Republican candidate for the late Ted Kennedy's former seat in the U.S. Senate — and endorsed by at least part of the Tea Party movement.

"Literally since December 30th, we're talking like within the last week, it's like a light was turned on. Republicans didn't used to raise, if you were running for a statewide office you're not used to raising six figures online, let alone seven, and I think that will easily be broken this year. I think it's a function of being out of power, having a compelling sense of urgency," Ruffini said. "[There is] a drive to get something done in a substantive way."

But this new technology is expensive stuff; The Hill reported recently that Republican Party spending to bolster the campaign pushes of its two successful gubernatorial candidates this year has drained the national GOP's coffers.

Act.ivi.st microsites come at $15,000 a pop, All says. The way they're designed, each site is really only useful for one issue, so you'd need to buy a new one for each policy push. The Heritage Foundation has at least one and is launching more soon, says All. Tedisco's campaign paid over $12,500 to use Ruffini's iContribute online fundraising platform, FEC filings show, although the widget generated nearly $49,000 for Tedisco's special election campaign, according to the number now on the widget. Ruffini says Tedisco raised $220,000 online in total.

Ruffini and Finn will be talking about their work on the McDonnell campaign during today's PdF conference call, which will begin very soon now, and which is open for PdF Network members to join, listen in, and ask questions. You can register for the network here to gain access to the call.