TERRE HAUTE —
The next mayor of Terre Haute could be your friend.
Even if the two of you have never met.
That’s the surreal nature of political campaigns in the Facebook era. The good ol’ boy network meets the social network.
As Terre Haute prepares for its most high-profile election, the race for mayor, Facebook is adding a new dimension to a process that hasn’t changed much in more than a century. Candidates can survey citizens — those who are “friends” or “fans” of their Facebook page — about issues and priorities. Likewise, Average Joes and Janes can pose questions to the candidates. Rallies can be promoted. Position statements can be posted as videos. Funds can be solicited.
“Friendships” can be forged, albeit in cyberspace, all quite quickly.
“All of these tools will be new this time around,” Darrel Zeck, director of public affairs for Mayor Duke Bennett’s administration, said early Thursday evening.
Bennett has not yet officially announced that he’ll seek re-election. But the first-term Republican launched his Mayor Duke Bennett Facebook page last autumn “in anticipation of the campaign,” he said Thursday. A formal announcement should come in the next two weeks, and Bennett said that step likely will include a same-day statement on the mayor’s Facebook page.
Bennett did not have a Facebook page in 2007 when he defeated incumbent mayor Kevin Burke.
The impact of social networks already has been felt in the 2011 race. In the last 60 hours of 2010, Democrat candidate Fred Nation raised $13,000 for his mayoral campaign through e-mails and his Fred Nation for Mayor Facebook page. “That really astounded me with its effectiveness,” Nation said last week.
People throughout the Wabash Valley may have received Facebook “friend requests” from political candidates in county, state and national races during the past couple years. Barack Obama used Facebook in groundbreaking fashion during his successful drive to the presidency in the 2008 election.
“It’s become more common,” said Matt Bergbower, assistant professor of political science at Indiana State University and the former rural policy adviser to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.
Compared to phone calls and e-mails, Facebook — if handled correctly — can be “a better way to reach voters,” Bergbower added. Its flexibility allows candidates to address problem issues. For example, when Quinn was running for governor (after ascending to the office from his role as lieutenant governor in the wake of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment), polls showed he trailed his opponent among women voters. So his election team produced a video message from Quinn, highlighting the role of women in his administration and posted it on his campaign Facebook page.
“That’s another opportunity for candidates to assess where they are before election day and then react,” Bergbower said.
Facebook has its shortcomings, though. Folks who search online for a candidate’s Facebook page “are people that are already going to support them,” Bergbower said.
“For the most part,” he added, “it’s mobilizing the base; [Facebook] has its own value, but there are limitations, and that’s the main limitation.”
There are other limitations, too. More than 100 million Americans and a half-billion people worldwide use Facebook, and the fastest-growing user group is the 74-and-older crowd, according to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Still, by far, the people most often found updating their status are 18- to 33-year-olds (83 percent of them do so), and that demographic also represents people least likely to vote. The percentages of social network users decrease as the ages rise — 34-to-45s (62 percent), 46-to-55s (50 percent), 56-to-64s (43 percent), 65-to-73s (34 percent), and 74s-and-up (16 percent), according to Pew.
As Obama’s success in 2008 revealed, the young can be inspired to vote. Without a similar surge on a local level, though, a typical election probably won’t hinge upon the quality of the candidates’ Facebook pages. “Not very likely,” said Marjorie Hershey, professor of political science at Indiana University. “Most races aren’t close. But in those few close races, any set of decisions — whether involving social media, turnout activities, emphasis on early voting, or anything else — can potentially make a difference.”
Terre Haute’s last mayoral election was anything but typical. Bennett beat Burke by just 110 votes out of 12,000-plus cast, becoming the first Republican to win that seat in 40 years.
Thus, despite the social network’s inadequacies, candidates in a local race can’t afford to leave Facebook out of their campaign strategy. “That’s highly inadvisable,” Bergbower said.
That apparently won’t happen. Nation launched his campaign page on Dec. 29, and already has 394 fans who “like” it. (Others may have wound up finding Nation’s personal Facebook page, which was up long before his announcement.) Bennett’s pre-announcement page went up in early fall, and now has 1,796 “friends.” Independent candidate John Cunningham said his Facebook page likely will be unveiled this weekend.
Some pages are structured as Facebook Groups, which include “friends,” interactive commenting and e-mailing. Others are Facebook Fan pages, which allow users to “like” the page, and participate in similar online activities, such as posting comments and viewing upcoming events and videos, without group e-mailing. One advantage of a Fan page is that it’s easier to find in a simple online search than a Facebook Group.
Either way, the key to a candidate maximizing a page’s potential is to use it frequently. Once a week isn’t enough. “You’re looking for activity,” Bergbower said, “and you’re looking for friends.”
That takes time. If a candidate can’t maintain regular Facebook exchanges, campaign staffers or volunteers can assist, Bergbower said. But the candidate needs to drive the commentary. A video message helps. “It gives a more personal touch,” Bergbower said.
Both Nation and Bennett (who’s making his first foray into Facebooking) want to be the actual voice on their pages. “If I can do it, I want to do it,” Nation said. “I think it’s much more valuable for a candidate to respond than a staffer.”
Bennett agreed, while acknowledging his already busy schedule may limit him. “I’ll have to find some way to keep it fresh,” he said.
Ideally, a candidate’s commitment to a Facebook page will result in an old-fashioned payoff — friends tell their friends who to support. “I can connect with local people here who can, in turn, connect with other local people,” said Cunningham, the independent.
Word of mouth. Door to door. Laptop to iPhone. It’s all politics.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Networking websites offer candidates chance to be your friend
TERRE HAUTE —
The next mayor of Terre Haute could be your friend.
- Mark Bennett Opinion
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
MARK BENNETT: Letter from coach’s young daughter put pro sports, Christmas in perspective
Most of us sympathize with people forced to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That list is growing, now that Black Friday has morphed into Black Thursday, causing retail employees to join doctors, nurses, hospital staffers, police, firefighters, emergency responders, military members, convenience store clerks, road crews and media to spend holidays at work. Ideally, we’ll feel gratitude when we require their services on those special days. Too often, their sacrificed time gets taken for granted.
Terry Leonard wanted the executives to remember her dad, and their family, at Christmastime.
And, amazingly, they listened.
MARK BENNETT: A degree of success
Determination to get that diploma Larry Bird’s deepest bond with fellow ISU alums, students
MARK BENNETT: Brad Fenton and friends set dominos in motion to make Larry Bird statue a reality
The idea has been out there for awhile, floating.
Locals in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s would say, “They need to put up a statue of Larry Bird. I mean, one of the all-time greatest basketball players played right here in Terre Haute at Indiana State University.”
MARK BENNETT: Next chapter set to begin
Use the classic Tommy Tutone song to memorize the following number …
MARK BENNETT: One-ring blues?
Minutes before kickoff tonight, the Lucas Oil Stadium tech crew should play Sam Cooke’s classic, “(What a) Wonderful World” over the sound system.
MARK BENNETT: At Peace in Parke County
Northwestern Parke County — The stream merely trickles beneath Mill Creek Bridge. It’s just a few inches deep, but the water keeps moving.
MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute native Tommy John belongs in Cooperstown for pitching like a Hall of Famer
Few players in history left a greater impact on baseball than Tommy John.
And he did so through his performance on the field.
MARK BENNETT: Remotely confused
“Must See TV,” where have you gone?
MARK BENNETT: Popularity Contest: Congress does little to improve its standing with Americans
The members of Congress ardently resisting the Affordable Care Act emphasize its unpopularity.
MARK BENNETT: ‘The voice of the Democratic Party’
The ad stands as a campaign classic. Its scenario is part of history. Its narrator would be familiar to millions of Americans, yet anonymous, too.
MARK BENNETT: Transparency in public decision-making includes sincerely listening to the people
Transparency isn’t universally accepted in public entities.
MARK BENNETT: This Little Light: Remote chapel keeps a light shining on story of Flight 93
Father Al explained the meaning of the lamp. He asked me to light it.
The reverence in his voice offset the raspiness, left by his latest battle with cancer. Clearly, he saw this place as special.
MARK BENNETT: Reflections on the Wabash
The series “500 Miles of Wabash” wrapped up last Sunday after a five-week run. Readers offered some enlightening insights, memories and photographs as the series unfolded.
MARK BENNETT: Current Information: Put your Wabash knowledge to the test … or quiz
Just for fun, ponder a few questions concerning the large waterway flowing through Indiana and Terre Haute, as the Tribune-Star’s series, “500 Miles of Wabash” concludes in today’s editions. Those who’ve followed the five-part series of stories, photographs and videos about people and communities uniquely embracing the Wabash River may have a head start. If you’re just catching up, check them out in the online editions at www.tribstar.com.
- Answers to the Wabash River Quiz
MARK BENNETT: Pedestrian paths across the Wabash few, so far, but appreciated
The future tends to sneak up on you. Planning for it offers no guarantees, but it helps.
MARK BENNETT: Questions of fairness, impartiality, public trust legitimate in wake of school rating controversy
The discovery of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — weakens trust. The acceptance of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — erases trust. Indiana needs to draw a clear line between the former and the latter, and not cross it.
MARK BENNETT: Living downstream: From source, Wabash bears mark of mankind mile after mile
Something was missing. I’d never visited this spot before, but the view looked familiar. I’ve walked the banks of the Wabash River and its tributaries countless times, catching crawdads and skipping rocks in Honey Creek as a kid. On the other side of the state, where the Wabash crosses from Ohio into Indiana, trees arched over the water as it ran under a bridge on a quiet country road. It looked like western Indiana, except for one absent element. Litter.
MARK BENNETT: We are Hauteans (ho-shuns)
I fielded an hilariously disturbing question recently. A friend asked if the word “Hautean” is meant to be a derogatory label.
MARK BENNETT: Lesson in the Test
ISTEP is important, but it should not be predominant.
MARK BENNETT: Commencement Advice
Today’s high school commencement speakers should repeat their speeches in hospital delivery rooms in the months ahead.
MARK BENNETT: American nurses, medics, stranded behind Nazi lines, survived through tenacity, heroism, generosity
A story of survival, perseverance, danger, and extraordinary courage and generosity extended in the midst of war remained untold for decades, but thankfully not forever.
Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river
At 96 feet wide and 2 stories tall, the power, impact and value of the Wabash will be evident.
MARK BENNETT: Life at face value: Mom’s simple advice still presents a valuable daily challenge
Most moms don’t base their advice on scientific research.
(Unless, of course, your mother is a scientific researcher. If so, carry a No. 2 pencil and take good notes.)
MARK BENNETT: Should I stay or should I go?
Some have their Bill Clinton-era Cavalier packed (with the trunk bungee-ed shut), apartment cleaned (except for the fridge), and iPhone GPS locked onto the fastest route out of Terre Haute. Others are staying — until they find a better job, or because they’re starting a career here, or because this town feels like home. In each case, a new stage of life begins today.
College Class of '13 gets a little extra advice
Local college grads will hear commencement speakers offer life and career advice this month. We’re offering them an extra dose here from folks who’ve found success in various vocations and regions of the nation. Many have Terre Haute roots.
MARK BENNETT: Spirited response to a rising river
The power within the Wabash revealed itself last week.
MARK BENNETT: Littered with irony: Why do people callously discard their trash, and who are they?
Though they aren’t acknowledged by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are basically two demographic groups of people … Those who would dump their old toilet on the banks of the Wabash River or a rural roadside. And those who wouldn’t.
MARK BENNETT: Performing under the radar: Toiling for years behind the scenes, Terre Haute native J.T. Corenflos finally earned a splash of musical recognition
People who diligently work to make others shine are a rare breed.
- More Mark Bennett Opinion Headlines
- MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer