Jared Polis claims high-tech victory at polls
August 14, 2008
DENVER ” Online entrepreneur Jared Polis’ victory over longtime state lawmaker Joan Fitz-Gerald in a congressional primary may signal a Democratic Party shift away from traditional roots like organized labor and toward an environment-minded, high-tech base, political analysts said Wednesday.
Polis knows how to use high-tech tools, including Blackberries and the Internet, to recruit supporters, and he did it in the run-up to Tuesday’s victory in the 2nd Congressional District primary, they noted.
“It’s a new economy. It’s about meeting people under 60 years old who do things differently than they did a decade ago,” said Rick Ridder, a Democratic political consultant. “Joan Fitz-Gerald didn’t understand Web 2.0, which is all about interaction, not just sending e-mails. It’s what Barack Obama did so well, it’s what Mark Udall did so well. It engages voters who want a conversation.”
Polis said Barack Obama and other Democrats are successfully using new media to reach supporters who normally don’t participate in political campaigns ” and it’s not just about e-mails and blogging.
“I’ve been a longtime techie since 300-baud modems. I used Facebook and MySpace for social networking. I had 500 supporters on Facebook and 100 on MySpace,” the Internet entrepreneur said.
Polis asked each of those supporters to contact 20 or 30 people and ask for their help. The Internet did the rest. Young voters, Polis noted, want more than e-mails asking them to vote; they expect to interact.
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Fitz-Gerald did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
The two candidates agreed on most major issues, such as economic policy, the war in Iraq and energy, as they fought to represent the Democratic-leaning district that includes Boulder. Incumbent Democratic Rep. Mark Udall is running for a U.S. Senate seat, and Polis is considered the early front-runner heading into the November election against Republican Scott Starin.
During his campaign, Polis ran a daily blog and responded each night to those who sent him questions. He looked up their profiles on Facebook and MySpace and personalized his messages.
He also posted on liberal blogs like Daily KOS and included his cell phone number so constituents could call him. Many did, and when he won, they posted congratulatory messages on his Web pages.
Ridder said Fitz-Gerald, backed by traditional Democratic interests including organized labor, had a hard time tapping into the high-tech dynamic because many of her supporters can’t take time off from work, while Polis had a willing young army sitting at their computers.
Fitz-Gerald, the former state Senate president, should have won in blue-collar Adams County but “got killed by 10 points there,” Ridder noted. The same happened in Weld and Adams counties.
Overall, with 99 percent of the vote counted, Polis had 42 percent to Fitz-Gerald’s 38 percent. Environmentalist Will Shafroth was a distant third at 20 percent.
Mike Cerbo, head of the Colorado AFL-CIO, argued that Polis won because he put an unprecedented $5.3 million of his own money into the campaign ” not because the unions that backed Fitz-Gerald are struggling with new technologies.
Organized labor also uses blogs and other tech methods to get out the message, as well as the old-fashioned telephone, Cerbo said.
“The Polis campaign did a magnificent, effective job of getting their message out in the media,” Cerbo said, adding: “We did a tremendous job getting our message out, and our members responded.”
Republican political consultant Katy Atkinson said the new media used by Polis to mobilize supporters works for younger voters ” but not older voters who are more likely to go to the polls. Still, she noted that the younger generation expects a conversation about major issues affecting their lives, and she believes Polis did a better job.
“It’s what Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean used, it’s what Obama used, and it’s effective,” Atkinson said.