Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been battling to win support of Texas voters before today's primary and caucus, and e-mail is a significant part of their get-out-the-vote efforts in the state. But while grassroots organizing and GOTV is clearly important in the tight race, both campaigns seem to have forgotten about the issues, apparently assuming everyone on their e-mail lists already decided who they'll vote and caucus for.
"There's no discussion of issues whatsoever. When they're on the stump in local places at least what they're talking about is more important to Texas," said Brian Reich, principal at EchoDitto, an online strategy and technology consulting firm serving nonprofits and political clients.
Clinton's and Obama's campaigns both sent e-mails tailored to Texas voters, pushing the state's early voting option and prodding voters to caucus and get friends and neighbors involved. E-mail may be a great way to convince supporters to hold an early voting house party, as Obama's campaign did, or urge them to sign up to be a precinct captain, as both campaign's did.
Still, the fact is e-mail recipients haven't all made up their minds. By neglecting to discuss issues in recent e-mails to Texas voters and distinguish one candidate from the other, both campaigns may have taken support for granted.
"It assumes that everybody who signs up for the e-mail list is a supporter...and in a closely contested race that people aren't looking for reinforcement of why they should vote," said Reich. "Campaigns do themselves a disservice by thinking that e-mail in particular is not going to fall into somebody's inbox who needs more than just a reminder to find their polling place."
Campaigns would never dream of pulling their TV ads five days before an election, he continued, suggesting e-mail should be used as a last-minute persuasion medium just as television is. "They should be trying to persuade right down to the very last e-mail," he added.
Obama's campaign used e-mail to stress the importance of grassroots efforts, particularly for post-vote caucusing in Texas. "Grassroots organizing is crucial here in Texas, and you can make a big difference in your community by getting involved now," read one message to El Paso residents. Others promoted early-voting house parties: "These House Parties are a great way to meet fellow supporters, learn more about Barack and our campaign, and find out how you can reach out to other Texans before March 4th." ClickZ News tracked e-mails delivered by the campaigns since mid-February to El Paso voters.
Obama for America also used e-mail to invite people to hear supporters speak, including Texas native and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Federico PeÑa. Clinton's campaign promoted El Paso events with Bill Clinton.
When it comes to geo-targeting e-mails, the campaigns ought to be hyper-localizing the message as well as the messengers, suggested Reich. While both campaigns sent e-mails written by their Texas state and field directors, neither got much more local than that in the messages sent to El Paso voters. Empowering precinct captains, neighborhood organizers or other volunteers to tell localized stories via e-mails sent to people in their voting districts might have been one way to geo-target more efficiently, he said.
"The campaigns focus so much on celebrity surrogates, but at phone banks you don't have that," he said, noting that phone banking, a traditional means of getting out the vote, typically involves individual supporters calling people in their area and personalizing their messages. "Why not let the local organizer write that e-mail or write that story?" asked Reich.
In a message sent from the Clinton campaign on Feb. 15, national political director Guy Cecil wrote, "Winning elections takes hard work. We have to roll up our sleeves and tap into the talent and grit that each of us have to offer. I'm asking you now to work for her because, as president, she'll be working for all of us. Hillary needs you to become an active volunteer in Texas to help us win next month."
The Democratic rivals both used e-mail to urge Texas supporters to volunteer and missed few chances to remind them of the need to caucus as well as vote. Yet neither used e-mail messages to explain the caucusing process in detail. "Caucusing is a fun and easy process that allows you to stand for Barack and help him win more delegates," read a message from Obama for America's Texas field director Mitch Stewart. But besides stating briefly that people vote in the primary today and caucus at 7 p.m. this evening if they voted, the campaign provided little practical information in the e-mail messages.
"They've missed opportunities to go deep on substance...and to go very practical on what you can do," said Reich. "Neither campaign is as locally focused with its online tools as we would all hope they could be."
Not only did the two campaigns stick almost exclusively to getting out the vote in their Texas-aimed e-mails, language each used to introduce messages sent yesterday was remarkably similar. "We've had a long journey together in Texas," wrote Obama in an e-mail titled, "One Last Thing..." In her "Tonight and tomorrow in Texas" e-mail received a couple hours later, Clinton wrote, "You and I have taken a remarkable journey together through this entire campaign."
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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