Tight Race Republicans Target Voters Online

ClickZ_Campaign08_katefinal.jpgAn interview with Pennsylvania Republican Senatorial incumbent Rick Santorum published in mid-August remains one of the “most linked” articles on conservative news and opinion site Townhall.com. So it’s no wonder the candidate’s campaign views the site as a good place to advertise. Republican Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) are also advertising on the site. Indeed, in a year when Republican dominance in both the House and Senate hangs in the balance, the Web could capture even more ad dollars this election cycle than the up to 50 percent of campaign spend some political consults have predicted.

Homepage half-banners and larger, site-wide units running currently on Townhall.com proclaim, “Join Rick in saying no to amnesty.” The ads, placed by full-service political marketing agency Connell Donatelli, promote an online petition against amnesty for illegal immigrants. Santorum is guarding his Senate seat in a neck-and-neck race against Democratic State Treasurer Bob Casey. The polarizing Republican’s campaign ran over 5.4 million impressions on Townhall.com in July, according to Nielsen/NetRatings’ AdRelevance and confirmed by Townhall. Santorum campaign ads are running in Townhall’s e-mail newsletters as well.

Correlating an editorial feature like the Santorum interview with an ad buy is an approach the site may continue, according to Townhall.com General Manager Chuck DeFeo, “It’s content that’s appropriate for our readers…so it was good timing,” he said. The site also published a story in June featuring National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre regarding the potential for a U.N. ban on guns. The second amendment supporters ran ads in July on Townhall, as well as ESPN.com, according to AdRelevance.

Santorum and his campaign have been committed to “maximizing the potential of the Web to reach those who spend much of their time there,” explained Mindy Finn, the campaign’s director of new media and political technology. She added, “With Townhall.com’s broad appeal and popularity with conservatives, it’s a natural place for the Santorum campaign to advertise and give Santorum supporters a chance to interact with the campaign.”

The NRCC has purchased a lot of ad impressions on Townhall’s homepage for a long-term campaign, said DeFeo. The small ads mention the names of prominent Democrats and encourage visitors to sign a petition “before it’s too late” to demonstrate their stance against a House takeover by Democrats. Although the virtual signing of the petitions are calls-to-action for both the Santorum and NRCC ads, another main goal is to garner campaign donations, affirmed DeFeo.

Dick DeVos, the Republican challenger running in a tight gubernatorial race against Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, recently ran ads on Townhall. In addition, the campaign ran PointRoll expandable rollover banners on MLive.com, Detroit Free Press, AOL, and other sites. The banners linked out to a donation page and allowed users to view a streaming TV spot and submit e-mail addresses directly within the ad. The Santorum campaign ran similar PointRoll units on AOL.

“This is clearly where everything’s going,” commented Rebecca Donatelli, chairman of Connell Donatelli and president of Campaign Solutions, the online political consulting firm that implemented the campaign. “It may take a little longer to prepare the ad, but frankly, if you can stream a video and allow for a contribution and serve up a bio right within the ad unit so people don’t have to go anywhere else [why wouldn’t you do that?]” she continued.

Whether other political campaign consultants will embrace the Web in the same way this year is still unclear. E-Voter’s report “Moving to the Mainstream: Web-Based Political Communications on the Road to 2008,” released last week, provided some indication. The study found 38 percent of the political consultants surveyed estimate 6-20 percent of campaign budgets would go online in ’06; 11 percent said 21-50 percent will go towards the Web this year.

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