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Twitter plays outsize role in presidential campaign
Technology » Just 1.8 million tweets sent on Election Day 2008, Twitter now gets that many every 8 minutes.

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"Did u tell #Julia how much debt you left her?" Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer tweeted.

"Based on today’s bad unemployment report, it appears that Julia has given up looking for work," former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer tweeted after Friday’s unemployment figures showed tepid job growth.

At a glance

Twitter’s big role in 2012 campaign

Who’s online » Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, campaign strategists, journalists and political junkies have all flocked to Twitter.

Influence » While relatively few voters are on the social-networking service, it’s become an essential tool for campaigns to test-drive themes and make news with a group of politically wired “influencers” who process and share those messages with the broader world.

Filter » When a voter is exposed to any information related to the 2012 presidential contest, chances are it’s been through the Twitter filter first.

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Twitter’s warp speed presents both an opportunity and a challenge to campaigns ever vigilant about maintaining message discipline.

The Romney campaign sought to seize advantage after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen remarked that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s wife, Ann, a stay at home mother of five sons, had "never worked a day in her life." Polls show Romney lagging badly among women voters, and his advisers have sought ways to close the gender gap.

After Rosen’s comments on CNN quickly exploded — on Twitter — the Romney campaign launched a Twitter feed from the candidate’s wife.

"I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work," @AnnDRomney said in her first-ever tweet. "All moms are entitled to choose their path," came her second.

Ann Romney’s engagement on Twitter quickly earned her several thousand followers on the site. But it also scored news headlines and helped cast Democrats as unsympathetic to women who stay home with children — a score for the Romney campaign that went far beyond the Twitter audience.

Twitter has also caused both campaigns plenty of headaches.

The Obama team was forced onto defense during the Rosen controversy, even though she has no connection to the president’s re-election effort. The campaign deployed Michelle Obama to push back on Rosen.

"Every mother works hard and every woman deserves to be respected," the first lady tweeted.

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In February, Romney delivered an economic speech at Ford Field in Detroit — a must-win primary state for the Michigan native as he battled rival Santorum for the GOP nomination.

But hours earlier, reporters began tweeting photos of the nearly empty football arena and the small section of it reserved for Romney’s event. By the time the former Massachusetts governor delivered the address, the ill-chosen venue had become the story instead.

Twitter also contributed to the resignation of a Romney foreign policy spokesman last week. Richard Grenell stepped down in part because of caustic tweets he had sent about a host of public figures including MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and Newt and Callista Gingrich.

Indeed, Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, said the snark factor is one of Twitter’s biggest pitfalls.

"You’re more likely to be embarrassed by what’s said on Twitter than to be praised," Rosenstiel said. "The things that go viral tend to be jokes and tend to be mocking."

But, he added, "Twitter has this quality of being an alert system that elevates it above the number of people using it."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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