In Defense of Martha Coakley’s New Media Team

Check out the following guest article for a view of the Brown/Coakley race different from what is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom in the online politics world. My friend (and Blue State Digital staffer) Henri Makembe was on the scene, and while he’s not happy with the outcome of the race, he’s here to defend Coakley’s new media team from accusations that they were asleep at the proverbial switch. For more from Henri, see his LocalPoliTechs site.

In Defense of Martha Coakley’s New Media Team

By Henri Makembe

Running on cheese pizza, RedBull, cold Dunkin Donuts coffee, cookies and the memory of the late Ted Kennedy, I spent the last few days volunteering for Martha Coakley alongside some of the best Democratic new media operatives. Some analysts are describing this as the most important election in the last 50 years — not including presidential contests. Despite our best efforts, Scott Brown won the seat that was held by someone who continues to be regarded as one of best, if not the best, senator of our time. Mr. Brown has some big shoes fill, and while I will be working hard against him in 2012, I wish him and his staff the best for the sake of the people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

What is being said…

Yesterday’s results have already produced a slew of articles and blogs posts about the use of new media during campaign from both traditional media outlets and blogs. CNN rightfully points out that Brown dominated Coakley online. WSJ highlights Brown’s effective use of Google Ads while ABC asks whether or not Brown is closing the digital gap between Republicans and Democrats. In the blogosphere, Tech President declares Google to be the winner of the election, ClickZ notes that the election could inspire a more digital GOP and AdAge goes for the obvious by pointing out that Coakley ignored the Obama Digital-Media playbook (of course, that is if you believe Obama had a playbook).

What is to come…

Unavoidably, there is much more analysis more to be written before this story is put to bed. The forthcoming commentary will be predictable and many blogs will be filled with what can only be described as pedestrian analysis. Undoubtedly, Kate Kaye will write about how much was spent on online advertising and where it was spent (Scott Brown blew Martha Coakley out of the water). Micah Sifry will inevitably link this loss to the “Obama disconnect” despite the fact that OFA volunteers and organizers made hundreds of thousands of calls from across the country. Colin Delany will accurately map out where the Coakley camp failed to learn from the Obama campaign and diverted from his blueprint on how to win in 2010. Many more posts and articles will be written addressing how the GOP is closing the new media gap. And some fools will inexplicably try to establish a direct correlation, between the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans and the outcome of an election (see Gavin Newsom and CA-GOV for evidence to the contrary).

What is being lost…

What will undoubtedly be missing from all these articles and blog posts, the good ones and the bad ones, is a true and fair account of what went on in the new media department. It’s true that they made mistakes, even rookie ones at that (who doesn’t?). It’s true that they were outmatched in the end (let’s be honest, did you know who Scott Brown was before two weeks ago?). What is not true is that they fell asleep at the wheel. The people I met, volunteers and staffers, worked tirelessly day in and day out for a candidate that they whole-heartedly believe in. They did their best given the resources and the strategy the campaign had adopted. They did not engage in turf war once we (the DC insiders) came in because they wanted to do what was best for the campaign; they wanted to win. They were open to changes and suggestions. They relinquished control when they were in over their head, though as some will rightfully argue that it was too late by then. In brief, they should not bear the brunt of Coakley’s failures online. This is not to say that they are completely blameless in the loss. I wish they had reached out sooner and fought harder for more resources and a different internet strategy. Not having been there, I don’t know that these things did not happen.

What remains…

After the proverbial ink has run dry on this story and blame game has stopped, the fact still remains – we lost yesterday. It’s gut-wrenching, even maddening. That being said, Democrats still have a 16 seats majority (excluding the two Independents) and much work remains to be done. Despite the outcome of this election, very little of the blame lay at the feet of the new media team. Given the right strategy — the Internet remains one of the best weapons at our disposal to bring about change. With our knowledge we will move forward on the words of a truly great senator, “The work begins anew; the hope rises again, and the dream lives on.”

Written by
Henri Makembe
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