2014 primaries: Candidates duke it out on social media

By Randy Lobasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 14, 2014

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Picture this: You’re a legislative staffer or social media director at one of the Pennsylvania Democratic candidates’ campaigns, and your boss is taking part in a debate right now.

As s/he does this, you’re supposed to highlight your boss’ key points, tweeting them out to the world at large, corresponding with and re-tweeting journalists who’ve written things that make your boss sound awesome. Promote your candidate, make them come off as positive as possible on the Internet after the debate is over. That’s all you need to do.

But it’s easier said than done. There’s a wild card. Everyone’s opponent’s umbrella organization is on Twitter, too. And it’s watching. It’s following you, and it’s been prepping and honing zingers all week. It’s mean. It’s angry. It’s hilarious. It’s trollish. And it’s the Twitter feed for the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

When the Democrats vying for Gov. Corbett’s position have debated this year, @PAGOP, the Pennsylvania GOP’s social media moniker, has been at its battle station, verbally kicking each hopeful in the shins with typographical vitriol and sarcasm, even as the Democrats have landed jabs at each other. And even as I speak over email to a representative for this story, she can’t help but take a few more swings at the Democrats to make her points about social media.

“As Republicans, we work hard to share our message of limited government and fiscal responsibility with as many voters as possible,” says Megan Sweeney, communications director for the Pennsylvania Republican Party. “Twitter allows us to share our Republican message while holding Democrats accountable for their policies in a direct and immediate way.”

She’s not kidding. During a March 23 debate, for instance, @PAGOP didn’t waste any time asking the candidates where they stood on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“@AllysonSchwartz Are you proud of your vote for #Obamacare? #DTeam #PAGov,” the @PAGOP Twitter feed blasted during that debate.

Obamacare in its current form, of course, is not popular among Pennsylvanians. Says Sweeney: “As the first candidate in the country to actually brag about her role in writing Obamacare, we felt it was important to note Pennsylvania’s strong opposition to the bill.”

Then, the feed attempted to get the candidates on record supporting or opposing one another’s supposed, unpopular positions.

“@RobMcCordPA Do you think @WolfForPA’s sales tax increase is fair? #DTeam #PAGOV,” @PAGOP tweeted at 8:51pm on March 28.

“@McGintyForGov do you think its right for @WolfForPA to try to buy the election? #DTeam #PAGOV #PACD,” it wondered.

Back when the Democratic primary field was crowded, the Pennsylvania Republican party came up with a pretty slick name for it: The “D-Team.” That tag was sort of a take on The A-Team, meant to show the Democrats’ ineptitude through examples of faults and photo collages of the candidates looking either clumsy or angry, captured in shots in which they were either not ready to be photographed or were unaware they were being photographed.

This is what you have to deal with. Over the course of the hour in which you’re promoting your boss, @PAGOP would ask similar passive-aggressive questions to the other candidates’ Twitter feeds. According to Sweeney, this is both a job and natural progression of their online work.

“From PA Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn saying there was no super secret candidate running for governor, to the PA Democrats’ refusing to endorse any candidate in the race, it became apparent that even the Democrats thought they had a lackluster group of candidates,” she says. “We decided to create dteam2014.com as a resource for voters to learn the facts about these uninspiring group of candidates.”

At one point during the debate, the @PAGOP account posts a photo of Tom Wolf and Allyson Schwartz—Wolf is looking away from the camera with his eyes halfway closed; Schwartz is making an accidentally-funny face—with “I [HEART] Obamacare” written between them.

As the candidates generally agreed during this forum that more state money needs to be put in education, @PAGOP tweets at each pol with the hashtag #NewMath, claiming, “Fact Check: @GovernorCorbett has made record investment in state education spending ...” which is actually true, in pure numbers, but not total funds, state dollar percentage or spending per pupil.

During other debates, @PAGOP asked Rob McCord if his staff planned to “physically grab” anyone on stage that night. That’s a reference to the Dems’ February endorsement convention in Hershey, in which, among other things, McCord’s and Schwartz’s campaign staffers got into a clash, according to a censored column in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Later, @PAGOP would take on Wolf with the hashtag, #WhatsWolfHiding. During a pro-fracking rally in Harrisburg, the GOP asked the Democrats, “How many shale jobs would there be under your plan to BAN natural gas drilling?” And they’ve created a website titled HasWolfReleasedHisTaxReturnsYet.com. When you click on it, it reads, in large print, “Nope.”

What sort of sleaze does the GOP have up its sleeve for the general election? We’ve no idea. Just get your popcorn ready. 

For more, follow @PhillyWeekly and @RandyLoBasso on Twitter.

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