The kick-off of Barack Obama's 2012 re-election bid Monday morning came with a relaunch of BarackObama.com and a thoroughly Web-based announcement push that featured a campaign YouTube video, a text message, a Facebook post, a pair of tweets, and a simple call to supporters: "Are You In?"
One question on some people's minds now, though, is just how "in" the new-media team that helped to power the historic '08 Obama for America campaign will be an election cycle after raising more than half a billion dollars and setting a new standard for what it means to be a tech-savvy, distributed, collaborative online political operation.
A little bit of history: back when then-Sen. Barack Obama was still exploring a run in the winter of 2007, he and campaign manager David Plouffe hired Joe Rospars, a Howard Dean campaign veteran, to direct his new-media operation. But the 2012 re-elect under campaign manager Jim Messina is launching, say several sources, with no equivalent to Rospars.
Instead, say folks in the know, while the search goes on for full-time new-media staffers to helm the Obama for America 2012 campaign in Chicago, its new-media efforts are being led by the online operation at Organizing for America, the project of the Washington-based Democratic National Committee that the '08 Obama campaign morphed into, somewhat controversially, post-election day.
Lucas Fleischer is the new-media director at OFA, having taken over when Natalie Foster left that post this past December. Also in the mix, according to those in the know, are 2008 vets now with Blue State Digital, the firm co-founded by Rospars that played a leading role in the '08 campaign's new-media efforts, and a handful of Chicago-based staffers under Messina.
Blue State Digital's press operation politely declined to comment, deflecting attention to the Democratic National Committee. A call to the Obama for America HQ in Chicago -- a call that was answered "BarackObama.com" -- hasn't yet been returned.
"We're letting the announcement stand for itself," said DNC spokesperson Greg Greene, when queried about the new-media strategy. But several people involved confirmed that OFA is taking the lead on the Obama '12 media operations at the moment.
So who, ultimately, will be the next Rospars? The search is on, it seems, for his 2012 equivalent and for the rest of the new-media team members. Rospars himself might not be a likely candidate. He has a day job as the creative director and founding partner at Blue State Digital, which was recently bought by global communications behemoth WPP.
Other '08 team members similarly have their hands full. Chris Hughes, who led the campaign's MyBarackObama.com social network, recently launched Jumo, an online social activism hub. Macon Phillips, a new-media aide on the campaign, is now the White House's new-media director, and Arun Chaudhary, formerly a campaign videographer, has served in that same role in the Obama White House. The '08 campaign's text messaging point person, Scott Goodstein, now runs DC-based Revolution Messaging. Several other new-media staffers also now either run their own firms or work for big digital shops. Of course, there's no saying that any of them couldn't leave their jobs, or perhaps serve the campaign as outside consultants, as some of Blue State's staff did in 2008.
Still other 2008 campaign vets have no plans to re-up on Obama campaigning. Asked by email if they planned to come back on board for 2012, Kate Albright-Hanna, a former CNN producer who led video for the campaign, and Sam Graham-Felsen, the campaign's lead blogger, both responded with the same word: "Nope." Graham-Felsen in particular has been critical of President Obama, writing an op-ed in the Washington Post in December that argued that, in the White House, Obama "has made it clear that, for the most part, his administration isn't seriously interested in deploying this massive grass-roots list -- which was once heralded as a force that could reshape politics as we know it -- to fight for sweeping legislative change. It's a shame."
Whether the 2012 Obama campaign will meet or exceed the bar set by 2008 operation when it comes to new media is still an open question, as it should be some 20 months out. But some people I spoke with fretted that launching without a new-media team in place was a sign that the campaign wasn't taking new media seriously enough; would Messina, went one worry, roll back what was considered a big step forward in '08 -- having Rospars report directly to the campaign manager -- and instead go the Obama White House route of having the new-media team subsumed as part of, say, of the communications operation? Still others suggested that the fact that the '12 iteration of Obama for America is taking its time in putting together a new-media team is a good thing -- a signal that they're going slowly in the effort, in order to get a critical component of the campaign right.
One thing seems likely: Obama's '12 new-media effort will look different than it did just four years ago. We're just waiting to see how.
Read more by Nancy Scola at TechPresident.com.