WASHINGTON — On a geopolitical level, Ted Cruz’s victory in the Texas Senate runoff for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate reflected the power of anti-government populism among hard-core Republicans.
But the most important lesson of Cruz’s landslide win over former frontrunner David Dewhurst has less to do with that political message than the rapidly evolving ways in which candidates communicate their message to voters.
The July 31 Republican runoff reflected a massive generation gap in the two candidates’ understanding of, and mastery of, social media and online networking.
The 41-year-old Cruz harnessed the power of social media and the Internet to organize his campaign, communicate with supporters and get them to the polls, much like Barack Obama did in 2008.
However, Cruz pushed the boundaries of the 21st-century communications phenomenon by reaching out to anti-establishment conservatives who then used their own networks to push his candidacy.
Experts say Cruz’s communications savvy played a major part in his emergence from obscurity and his ultimate triumph over the 66-year-old Dewhurst.
“The new reality in American politics is the social media and Internet connections,” Clemson University political scientist David Woodard said. “They found Ted Cruz as their darling and pushed him hard.”
The proof is in the numbers. Cruz had twice as many Facebook fans as Dewhurst, 86,507 to 43,355. And he tweeted to his Twitter followers 5,117 times through runoff day, versus 597 for Dewhurst.
Dewhurst, the state’s lieutenant governor for a decade, relied far more on traditional campaign strategies such as extensive television advertising and endorsements by dozens of state legislators and Gov. Rick Perry.
“Cruz ran very much a modern campaign,” said University of Texas political scientist Sean Theriault. “Dewhurst’s campaign was one that could have worked six years ago, but the Obama team showed how important social media could be to a campaign.”
Cruz was conscious of the rapidly evolving social media model from the beginning of his campaign. He announced his candidacy during a call with conservative bloggers in January 2011, then tweeted the news before holding a traditional news conference.
Cruz hired a 24-year-old social media trailblazer, GOP consultant Vincent Harris of Austin, who had helped mobilize
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