TALLAHASSEE — So long, stump speech. Hello, Twitter.
Florida candidates are launching their campaigns using social-networking shorthand, in tweets and Facebook messages instantly beamed to their online networks of friends and supporters and beyond.
An example: Sen. Dave Aronberg, D- Greenacres. By the time he stepped to the podium in Fort Myers to declare his candidacy for attorney general, the word was already out.
“Friends: After hearing from so many of you, I am following my heart and am running for Attorney General,” Aronberg wrote on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. “Pls join us!”
Aronberg said he thumbed the message on his BlackBerry on the drive to his press conference.
“We had to pause because we knew once we pushed that button, that was the moment the campaign started,” he said. Quickly, nearly 300 comments piled up from friends and supporters.
Americans everywhere are addicted to social networking sites. So it’s little wonder politicians are flocking there. For candidates, it’s a chance to reach thousands of supporters — for free — and build a rapport by providing off-the-cuff insights into their private lives and personalities.
In Florida, the onset of the first Twitter election has been on vivid display in recent weeks, with Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to run for U.S. Senate triggering statewide jostling for higher office. For candidates trying to build buzz and fundraising networks, Twitter and Facebook are ideal launching pads.
Sen. Dan Gelber announced he was backing away from the Senate race on his Twitter account and asked for input on his next move. Hundreds of responses poured in. When he made a decision to run for attorney general, Gelber announced that through his blog and on Twitter, too.
On Twitter, users can post whatever is on their mind — provided they can do it in 140 characters or less, a challenge for verbose political types. Facebook is a social-networking site, created in 2004, where users post pictures, prowl for lost friends and love interests, and offer “status updates,” a snapshot into what they’re thinking or doing.
Politicians who have mastered these platforms share a trait: They adapt to the snappy, stream-of-consciousness style. Talking points or stump speeches won’t play.
“The interesting thing is — with Twitter especially — it’s 140 characters. That makes a sound byte seem like a Russian novel,” said Bob Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. “The Gettysburg Address was short, but it wasn’t 140 characters.”
Former House Speaker Marco Rubio, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, threads the political and personal into his updates. He’s used his Twitter account to announce his campaign and comment on topics such as the appointment of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and universal health care, as well as less weighty matters.
“I am for progress, but this new iPhone every six months is ridiculous,” Rubio wrote the other day. “What new features does the new one have? Can it vote in a senate race?”
Rubio even got into hot water at home one day, when he tweeted that his wife was taking forever to get ready for a dinner date. The comment quickly landed on political blogs.
“I think the power of it is, it allows you to communicate with large numbers of people at no cost,” said Rubio, who dashes off updates on his iPhone from the campaign trail. “I would have a Twitter and Facebook account whether I was running or not. It’s a part of my life.”
Indeed, ardent Facebook followers check their accounts obsessively — almost minute by minute — and pontificate on mundane topics, from the weather to gym outings to being bored and under caffeinated at work. To fit in, politicians have to ditch their poll-tested personas.
Aronberg mixes campaign updates (15 months till the primary election!) with random observations (the eggs benedict were delicious!).
“It goes right to their cell phone — it is the new campaigning, and it’s not going away,” Aronberg said. “It’s a democratizing force in politics. You don’t have to have money or connections, anyone can log onto Twitter or Facebook. And it’s a two-way communication.”
Of course, for buttoned-down politicians accustomed to measuring every statement, all this sharing poses hazards, too. Every tweet or status update is a potential gaffe for an opponent to exploit.
“In a matter of five seconds, you can type out exactly what you’re thinking at that moment,” said Democratic consultant Steve Schale, who ran President Obama’s Florida campaign last year. “While it is humanizing, there’s no pause button.”
Josh Hafenbrack, can be reached at jhafenbracksun-sentinel.com or 850-224-6214.