After making an early bid for top techie of the Republican 2012 field with a buzzed-about Facebook town hall in March, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is following up by letting supporters of his Freedom First PAC help pick the PAC's endorsements.
Pawlenty announced the PAC's first endorsements at the Facebook town hall (which had about 1,000 participants), but also took questions and ideas about how to pick future endorsements. The PAC is now holding an online contest to determine future endorsements. Participants vote for their favorite, and are invited to nominate more candidates for the next round of endorsements.
The contest has netted 4,000 votes, according to a new media staffer with the PAC, but more importantly, it's incentivizing other Republican candidates to grow their social networks, using them to win the contest. The top vote-getter at the moment is perennial grassroots favorite Michele Bachmann, but many of the rest of the top are there because they've been publicizing the contest on Twitter and Facebook. They are Adam Kinzinger (a 31-year-old Air Force vet in IL-11), Mick Mulvaney (Rep. John Spratt's opponent in S.C.), Sean Duffy (Rep. David Obey's opponent in Wisconsin), and Steve Chabot (Rep. Steve Dreihaus' opponent in Ohio).
The prizes are pretty decent for the winner— co-hosting a Facebook town hall with Pawlenty, access to the PAC's list for fund raising, and a promise from the PAC to match donations up to $5000.
Pawlenty's efforts are another example of Republicans understanding that engaging their supporters, and even giving them substantial input on decisions, can create energy and good results. There is always a tug-of-war between a campaign/candidate/party keeping the proper amount of control over his message and decisions, but also empowering supporters with something more than simple tasks. It was the failure to follow through on the latter that disappointed some Obama supporters, despite his rhetoric. It's nice to see Republicans and conservatives wrestling with this dilemma with fledgling projects, and good results.
In the past, I've written about the organizers of the Tea Party's Contract From America using a similar online contest to come up with a common-sense platform for the movement. The recent online contest between Republican House members organized by Cathy McMorris Rodgers is another example of Republicans using new methods to build up their social networks.
But for all his efforts, Pawlenty is not the undisputed techie leader in the 2012 field. After all, Mike Pence addressed an anti-Obamacare rally in Iowa City in March...via Skype.