Candidates get creative to build text-message list

The Associated Press
Sunday, October 3, 2010; 1:53 PM

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A sign near the toilet said: "Text FLUSH to Robin." Above the restroom sink was another suggestion: "Text WASH to Robin."

Was this some sort of potty-room prank? Or high-tech graffiti?

Neither, actually. The bathroom bulletins were part of a calculated campaign strategy by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Robin Carnahan to collect as many cell phone numbers as possible for a text-message database.

In politics 2010, wireless phone numbers have become prized possessions. Landline phone calls increasingly get screened. E-mails sometimes get deleted even before they are opened. And anything looking like junk mail often ends up in the trash. But text messages get people's attention - instantly.

"From a campaign's perspective, texts are great, because there's a really high open rate for those," Carnahan said. "They pop up on your phone, so it's really easy to communicate with people quickly and know that they're seeing that piece of information."

Like many candidates this year, Carnahan is attempting to duplicate the successful social media strategies of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, which built an enormous cell phone database by promising to break the news of his vice presidential pick by text message. Obama messaged more than 1 million phones with his announcement. As the election neared, Obama texted those people again to encourage them to vote.

This year, Democrats and Republicans alike are employing gimmicks, giveaways and all sorts of grand means to gather the wireless phone numbers of likely supporters and voters.

Carnahan's Republican Senate opponent, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, has been traveling around Missouri in a bright blue RV emblazoned with the words: "Text JOBS to BLUNT."

On opening day for the Milwaukee Brewers, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold asked people to text his campaign with predictions of who would win the mascot sausage race - Bratwurst, Polish, Italian, Hot Dog or Chorizo. (The Polish sausage won.)

California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is running a text-messaging trivia contest. Those who correctly answer the question of which California team has won the most College World Series titles become eligible to win a free hat.

Anyone who texts "Tix" to 54608 - the code for the campaign of U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao, of Louisiana - is entered into a contest for two tickets to the Oct. 31 game between the New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers.

There was a similar text-message-based contest sponsored this summer by the campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Las Vegas resident Matthew Sorvillo won the prize of a ticket valued at $1,000 for a prime seat at an Ultimate Fighting Championship match.

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