Republicans Play ‘Turncoat’ Card to Build Support Online

ClickZ News - Politics & Advocacy Republicans are playing the “turncoat” card in the hopes of scoring supporters and raising money online. For months, online ads for Florida’s Republican wunderkind Marco Rubio have featured a photo of Florida Governor Charlie Crist – until recently his GOP primary opponent – alongside President Barack Obama. But the Rubio camp isn’t the only one taking shots at so-called defectors to promote their own campaigns and agendas.

The Senate Conservatives, Pat Toomey’s Senate campaign, and Tim Pawlenty’s PACs are all doing it. When Marco Rubio, Florida’s Republican candidate for U.S. senate, launched a money-bomb fundraising effort in January, the image chosen for use in his Web ads didn’t feature the young, attractive Rubio, despite his photogenic appeal. Instead, it featured a shot of Crist – now running for senate with no party affiliation – embracing Obama, after he’d stated his support for the economic stimulus package last year.

“Kiss Charlie Goodbye,” read the ads, which linked to RubioMoneyBomb.com. The campaign reported it had raised over $800,000 as a result of the fundraising campaign, and employed the cash to hammer away at Crist. More Web ads followed, such as paid Google listings that asked recently, “Will Crist abandon the GOP?”

He finally decided to leave the party last week, giving Rubio and other Republicans more online fundraising fodder. The Crist/Obama approach must have worked. The Senate Conservatives – a group that backed Rubio’s money-bomb campaign, is using it again. This time the message is even more strident: “We Saw This Coming,” say the ads, demanding, “Defeat the Defectors.” Both the money-bomb campaign ads and the “defectors” ads were paid for by the Senate Conservatives.

Who’s the other defector? Well, when it comes to the senate, it’s Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, who adopted the Democratic label last year after more than 40 years of holding office as a Republican. DefeatTheDefectors.com is a fundraising microsite paid for by the Senate Conservatives Fund PAC in support of Rubio and Pat Toomey, Specter’s Republican challenger in the PA senate race. The site also encourages supporters to use the #defectors and #SCF10 hashtags in their discussions of this year’s senate races.

Another microsite, SpecterSwitch.com tells supporters to “Help Flip The Switch Back To Republican.” It uses April 28, 2009 (as the site puts it, the date Specter “broke the trust of Pennsylvania voters and switched political parties in order to save his political career”) as a prompt to raise “$280,000 on the anniversary of Specter’s betrayal” to fund Toomey’s campaign. The site is paid for by Toomey for Senate.

That flip-switching message? It’s also being used in Rubio’s ads, suggesting a clear coordinated message strategy between the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Toomey and Rubio campaigns. “Flip the Switch on Crist” is a recent message seen in Google search ads for Rubio. “Help Elect a Principled Republican Stand With Marco,” say the ads.

“Disappointed with Crist?” asks an ad that appears in Google results for a search on “Charlie Crist.” The ad links to Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC site. The governor may test the Republican presidential primary waters when the 2012 election cycle kicks into gear.

GOP primary hopeful Mitt Romney is also expected to consider another run for the presidency in 2012. Like Pawlenty, he’s using the senate races to his advantage, targeting ads to searches for Rubio and Toomey. The goal for Pawlenty and Romney is to grow their supporter lists, keep them fresh, and generate donations to use if and when the time comes to run.

Follow Kate Kaye on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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