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How YouTube and Twitter are hurting Mitt Romney

at 07:50 AM ET, 04/12/2012

It’s a strategy as old as American politics: You run toward the party base — on the left or right — in the primary and then move to the ideological middle once you become your party’s standard-bearer.

But, the explosion of video-sharing sites like YouTube and microblogging technology like Twitter badly complicate this age-old formula.


A visitor is seen at the You Tube stand during the annual MIPCOM television programme market in Cannes, southeastern France, October 3, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
Take Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. After being dragged to the ideological right during the primary season by the likes of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Romney is in the early stages of moving back to the center in hopes of courting electorally critical independents.

Nothing new there. But, because basically every phrase that Romney uttered during the primary (and well before that) is either available on YouTube or Twitter, President Obama’s reelection team has tons of ammunition as they try to hold Romney to some of the things he has said in the past.

On Wednesday, the Obama campaign released a video splicing together Romney’s greatest hits (or, more accurately, misses) from the Republican primary race.

Here’s what senior Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted out about the web ad: “As the GOP primary season closes, lots of enduring memories! (Put another way, video is the enemy of Etch-a-Sketch.)”

Think about what a sea change that video represents. Ten years ago (or even maybe five years ago), the ability for anyone to quickly and easily upload video and share it was nonexistent. Finding quotes — or images — from candidates in obscure places or at anything other than sanctioned campaign events was virtually impossible.

Given those limitations, it was far easier for candidates to put their primary rhetoric behind them when they became the nominee. To call them on their past contradictions involved a) finding some tape (audio or video) of their remarks, b) convincing a news operation to run it, and c) hope that average voters saw the report. All of those barriers have now fallen.

“Presidential elections reveal the character of the candidates,” said Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s top aide in the 2008 presidential race. “All of the elaborate strategies designed by the campaigns to obscure the positions, core beliefs and character of the candidates from public view will give way under the intense and unrelenting scrutiny of an interconnected, fast-changing social media universe.”

While that brave new world is complicating in the near term for Romney as he seeks to slough off some of the more conservative positions he embraced in the primary, it’s also a potential problem for Obama, who ran on “hope” and “change” in 2008 and, for many, has delivered less of both than they had hoped.

“The interesting way to look at this is that, just as this applies to Mitt Romney, so too does it apply to the president vis-à-vis hope and change and the high-minded rhetoric — and promises — of four years ago,” said a Republican consultant granted anonymity to speak about his party’s nominee. “So it’s an ideological objective for Romney, whereas it’s a where-are-the-results objective for the president.”

Having every public — and even some private — utterances readily available for anyone with an Internet connection makes politicians’ jobs that much harder. Forgetting past positions is nearly impossible, which makes voters forgiving you for them all the more difficult too.

Analyzing the NRSC’s ad buys: As we reported in Afternoon Fix yesterday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has reserved $25 million worth of ad time across six states: Wisconsin, Missouri, Montana, Virginia, Nevada and New Mexico.

In this mix are five Democratic seats and one Republican — a reflection of the fact that the GOP is on offense. The NRSC hasn’t bought yet in its most likely pickup states — North Dakota and Nebraska — nor in the states it is most likely to lose a seat — Massachusetts and Maine. (In Massachusetts, the candidates have reached an agreement that heavily discourages outside involvement, so don’t expect any NRSC spending there.)

Basically, the NRSC is focused here on the most competitive of the 2012 races — Nos. 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 on our most recent Friday Line.

These are the toss-ups of the toss-ups and are the states where the majority will be decided, with Republicans needing to gain three or four seats, depending on the presidential outcome. And the NRSC is putting down an early marker.

Fixbits:

Jon Huntsman isn’t paying off his presidential campaign debt fast enough — at least as far as his vendors are concerned.

Outgoing Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) endorses Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) in the state’s recall of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Barrett’s primary opponent, Kathleen Falk, got the backing of the AFL-CIO.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) raised $935,000 in the first quarter, besting likely Democratic opponent Richard Carmona, who previously announced pulling in $800,000. Flake also has a big cash on hand advantage: $3 million to $1.1 million, but he faces a potentially tough primary first.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) raised $2 million for her campaign for Wisconsin’s open seat, her best quarter ever. She has $2.8 million cash on hand as Republicans face another hard-fought primary.

State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin (R) is up with the first ad of the open Maine Senate race.

Rep. Connie Mack’s (R-Fla.) campaign is up with its first ad of Florida’s Senate race, hitting Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) for voting for a stimulus bill that included funding for research on how monkeys — this is not a joke — respond to cocaine.

Former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert (R) has a new ad in the Texas Senate race.

Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) raised $410,000 in the first quarter for his campaign against Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) in a merged district. Latham has nearly $2 million cash on hand, which is sure to be a lot more than Boswell.

Rep. Aaron Schock’s (R-Ill.) office is fighting back against a report that a contribution Schock solicited from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to a super PAC was legal.

It sounds like Democrat Anthony Gemma will challenge Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in a primary, and in grand fashion too.

Nevada’s top two Republicans endorse Romney.

The Florida Republican Party gets some egg on its face for doctoring a headline from the Miami Herald.

Must-reads:

U.S. House Republican freshmen feel heat from all sides” — Thomas Ferraro, Reuters

Romney’s ambitious agenda for first day in office won’t be easy to achieve” — David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

Mitt Romney, a ‘private man in a public world,’ is silent on tales of altruism” — Philip Rucker, Washington Post

Electing to Sleep Elsewhere” — Jodi Kantor, New York Times

With nomination in sight, Romney makes appeal to women” — Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post

GOP Redistricting Bolsters Vulnerable House Members” — Neftali Bendavid, Wall Street Journal

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