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In Colorado, ProgressNow is Trying To Recreate That Map-Changing Political Magic

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Monday, October 29 2012

ProgressNow Colorado is sharing images like this on Facebook to remind liberals to vote Image: ProgressNow

Liberal group ProgressNow, which has worked to build political power for the left in Colorado over the past decade by mobilizing activists online and offline with new media tools, launched a new Facebook campaign over the weekend with the cheeky URL: "Voteorstfu."

Like dozens of other political efforts currently underway on Facebook, the effort is meant to galvanize the group's supporters and their friends to get to the polls. Early voting began in Colorado last Monday.

The thinking behind the page is that citizens haven't earned their right comment on the results of the 2012 election if they didn't vote.

The page offers infographics and other visuals to share on Facebook that encourage people to vote. The campaign is based on internal research from ProgressNow that told the group that undecided voters often turn to their friends for thoughts on how they should vote, rather than to television. TechPresident has noted similar research made public earlier this year. (Ironically, recent new stories reported late last week that Colorado is the top recipient in terms of television ad campaign dollars.)

"I definitely feel that Facebook is the number-one tool that is underutilized right now," said Joanne Schwartz, Progress Now's executive director, in an interview. "And part of the reason why it's underutilized is that it takes grassroots work, because people are only going to trust information coming from their friends -- they're not going to trust ads coming from Facebook."

So far, the campaign is not exactly an instant viral hit. Facebook reports that only 65 people "liked" the page, and 222 people are talking about it.

Nevertheless, the group shouldn't be underestimated. As described by authors Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer in their 2010 book "The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado," ProgressNow has played a major part in redefining the political conversation in Colorado with its large email list and creative online and offline campaigns.

ProgressNow has worked aggressively in the past year to frame the conversation both around the presidential ticket as well as around its congressional candidates and state legislature. (And in addition to its Facebook page, the group aims to educate and engage voters through JustVoteColorado.org, an online resource that provides Coloradans information on everything they need to know to go and vote.)

ProgressNow combines offline action with online to generate publicity to frame issues the way they want them to be framed. For example, the group has sent out activists to take actions every time GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney visit the state.

When Ryan arrived mid-August at an event in Lakewood, a city in electorally important Jefferson County for example, to speak about fiscal issues, some national and local press coverage focused instead on a prank pulled by ProgressNow activists who had signed up to attend under variations of the name "Fertilized Egg" to underscore Ryan's opposition to abortion.

ProgressNow also borrowed a tactic from MoveOn and paid for a plane to fly a banner over the event that read: “Hey girl. Choose me. Lose choice. P. Ryan,” adopting the language of now-legendary Internet creature Paul Ryan Gosling.

That was just one stunt that the group has pulled over the past election year. But the goal clearly is to steer the conversation and voters' attention to subject matters that might turn them off the Republican ticket, just like Democrats did in 2010 when they helped Democrat Michael Bennet win a Senate seat and just as the Obama campaign is attempting to do now.

Other tactics include trying to use their knowledge of pop culture to get mentioned on Twitter by celebrities so that people who don't normally follow politics might pick something up.

For example, during the period when the state legislature was considering a bill that would have sanctioned civil unions, ProgressNow tweeted at Kenneth Faried, a player for the Denver Nuggets who has two mothers. He ended up retweeting one of the group's tweets supporting civil unions.

Nevertheless, despite all of ProgressNow's work over the years, polls show that Colorado could swing either for Romney or Obama, despite Obama having won the state in 2008.

Schwartz says that she's keenly aware of the pressure on activists in the state to maintain support for Democrats.

"Definitely the presidential campaign is taking a lot of energy, given the strong importance of Colorado," she says. "The pressure this year seems to be much higher."

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