Facebook Friends Cannot Elect Gavin Newsom -- Or Anyone Else

Categories: Politics

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You can win friends and influence people on Facebook. But it won't get you elected governor of this state.

Last week's shakeup in Gavin Newsom's campaign for governor was, in a sense, a triumph of old media over new media. Eric Jaye, Newsom's longtime campaign guru who loved Twitter and Facebook, was out; Garry South, the bare-knuckled political consultant who wanted to shift Newsom to a more traditional TV campaign, was in.

The reality is certainly more nuanced than that, but it seems fair to say that, judging from last week's transactions on Team Newsom, online campaigning in California still isn't ready for prime time. Prime-time TV is still king in Golden State politics.

Bill Hillsman, a Minnesota-based political consultant who worked on Arianna Huffington's unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2003, says despite the popularity of online social networking sites, Facebook friends still can't elect the next governor.

While he says it's true that audiences are more fragmented than ever, TV still attracts a mass audience the Internet can't yet match. (New York Times media columnist David Carr recently wrote a column making this point.) Also, older people tend to vote the most, and Hillsman says the average voter over 60 watches more than seven hours of television a day.

"So things are changing, but TV still remains by far the best medium for political candidates to get their message out broadly [and] quickly," says Hillsman, who helped elect the late Paul Wellstone to the senate with quirky TV ads in the early '90s.

Hillsman, however, says he thinks the Newsom campaign's Internet strategy was a brilliant way to brand the mayor as different from others in the field -- the candidate of change a la Barack Obama. The problem with trying to replicate the Obama campaign's online success, he says, is that few can match Obama's fund-raising skills: Obama ran a $700 million campaign -- one that, let's not forget, bought long blocs of airtime on network TV near the election. (And while we're at it, let's not forget that TV ads featuring Newsom helped turn voter sentiment against gay marriage.)

Then there's one other problem: Gavin Newsom is no Barack Obama. Hillsman says of Newsom and others vying for governor right now: "To me, quite frankly, it's not the strongest field."

P.S. To get another perspective on the old media vs. new media question, check out blogger Greg Dewar's comments on the Calbuzz Web site.


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