When he is not concentrating on “winning the war against jihadists,” former Massachusetts governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney enjoys waterskiing and listening to The Eagles. The Michigan native enjoys books like “The Four Obsessions of An Extraordinary Executive” by Patrick Lencioni. At least, that’s what his official Facebook.com profile says.
As the 2008 presidential election heats up, many contenders are trying to energize student voters by creating profiles on social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace.com.
On Feb. 5, Romney became the first potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate with a Facebook profile. His exploratory committee posted the profile.
“Facebook can absolutely be an effective way of organizing events and different activities on college campuses across the country,” said Alex Burgos, a spokesman for the Romney campaign.
“It goes without saying that technology is revolutionizing the way political campaigns are run in America,” he said in a written statement. “Facebook is just one part of our broader effort to mobilize the grassroots network in cyberspace.”
Although Romney is the first Republican presidential hopeful to launch a Facebook profile, spokespeople from other presidential campaigns have also recognized the importance of online social networks for reaching student voters.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said social networking sites and interactive blogs have revolutionized the political process.
“We will be putting up a Facebook profile in the near future,” he said in a written statement. “Once the Senator makes a decision concerning his candidacy and begins travel, the
site will be updated often from the road.”
Three Democratic frontrunners, John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, all have Facebook profiles.
The official Facebook profiles of candidates are separate from independent Facebook groups supporting particular candidates or issues. Students from across the country have created hundreds of groups supporting some candidates and bashing others.
Many presidential hopefuls have joined the independent Facebook groups as a way of increasing their visibility. John Edwards, for example, is a member of 93 groups, including The Largest Facebook Group Ever.
If Facebook is any indication, Obama will be the 44th president.
One Million Strong for Barack has the most members of any group supporting a 2008 candidate. As of last night, it had more than 242,000 members.
LSA junior Kurt Garwood, who created the largest John McCain group in Facebook’s Michigan network with 1,589 members, agreed that the site could play an important role in 2008.
“It’s a good way to find those who are politically active,” he said. “People our age like to go on it and it’s a good way for politicians to try to appeal to young voters.”
Many leaders of the national campaigns agree.
“Using new technology like Facebook and MySpace to take advantage of the tremendous grassroots energy out there for Obama is tremendously important to him,” said Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama’s exploratory committee, in an e-mail interview.
It is unclear, however, whether support on networking sites will translate into more volunteers and voters for candidates. After all, joining a Facebook group takes only a few mouse clicks – less effort than putting a bumper on a car or a sign in a front yard.
Some politicians do more on Facebook than simply building a profile. Jamie Ruth, the chair of the University’s chapter of the College Democrats, recently received a Facebook friend request from Michigan State Senate member Glenn Anderson (D-Westland), who was elected with the help of the College Democrats in 2006.
“We actually went on a district invasion for him, which means we went and knocked on doors for him,” Ruth said.
Many students try to communicate with candidates through official Facebook profiles. Obama’s Facebook wall currently has almost 3,000 posts from eager supporters. Clinton’s wall has about 2,300 wall posts.
But allowing supporters to post on their Facebook profiles could cause some embarrassment for candidates.
Mitch Irvin, who is listed as a student at The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, declared his support on Obama’s wall in stronger terms than most in a post dated Feb. 7.
“Barack IS THE MAN!!!!!! Im leaving the country if Hillary wins! I can’t have that Crazy Biatch representing out country1!!! WE NEED NEW BLOOD!!! AND BARACK IS THE MAN FOR THE JOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Although the candidates may not log onto Facebook every day to check their profiles, staff members do moderate the activity.
“Senator Obama doesn’t see all of (the wall posts) but he does see many of them,” Burton said. “There are top members of the Senator’s staff who check the Facebook pages every day.”
By the numbers
Members in the Facebook group called “Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)”
Members in “Romney 2008”
Members in “ANTI Hillary Clinton for president ’08”
All figures as of 12:40 this morning.