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Rick Perry: Potential Website Genius

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Three days into his official presidential bid, and Rick Perry’s website isn’t much to brag about. It doesn’t even have a section on issue positions. Just the basics—who he is and how to give money.

But don’t worry. Rick Perry already ran one of the most innovative campaigns in recent memory last year, combining old-school grassroots organizing with social media. His website was a key piece in the strategy—a strategy that seems particularly well suited to running in Iowa and New Hampshire.

I outlined the story in my profile of Perry’s general consultant and chief strategist, Dave Carney:

Heading into Perry’s 2006 reelection campaign, Carney picked up a book to read on a plane—Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout. When he finished reading he promptly ordered copies for everyone he worked with. Then he called one of the authors, Yale political scientist Donald Green. Like many others who read the book, Carney was shocked by its findings: That old-fashioned, door-to-door campaigning is the most efficient way to turn out voters. Volunteer phone calls are pretty good too. But television ads, mailers and robocalls—the mainstays of modern campaigns and moneymakers for political consultants—have virtually no impact on voter turnout.

Carney invited the two authors, along with a couple other professors, to run experiments on Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign. When they returned with the same findings, Carney and the Perry team decided that in 2010, they would throw the playbook out the window.

For the 2010 primary against the popular and well-financed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry’s team created “Home Headquarters.” (You can still see the old page at Perry’s current website.) Those who signed up agreed to identify 12 Perry supporters and get them out to early voting. The campaign offered door prizes like lunch with former quarterback Troy Aikman or tacos with country music star Pat Green. The campaign held off on television ads until just before election day, and they even charged for yard signs. Through reaching out online, the campaign continued to build supporters, and then quickly got them recruiting others. The website functioned as its own headquarters of sorts, offering tips on reaching out and giving luddites lessons in using Facebook and Twitter. Unlike the Obama campaign’s famous website, the Perry campaign focused not on fundraising but getting people to turn out to vote. The entire effort was a resounding success.

Perry’s team would be well-situated to take their strategy national. It has a natural connection to states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where small town politics rule the day. Having a well-organized network of supporters, each of whom operates somewhat independently, would almost certainly give the campaign an advantage, but few campaigns have been willing to try such a tactic. Perry’s 2010 campaign was, in many ways, unique. “Putting quite a lot of money into grassroots organizing, especially early grassroots organizing, is something that was not done in years past,” said Donald Green, one of the Yale professors who studied Perry’s 2006 campaign and considers the 2010 strategy a “bold new model.”

And should the Perry team recreate their home headquarters for a national audience, they’ll have plenty of people to turn to. For over a year now, wherever he’s been, Perry has asked audiences to text “FIRED UP” to a phone number. At this point, having criss-crossed the country recruiting businesses to move to Texas and speaking as the head of the Republican Governor’s Association, Perry’s bound to have talked to a lot of people in a lot of cities. And that means a lot of cellphone numbers.

Meanwhile, his chief competitors are hardly innovating online. Michele Bachmann’s site has the requisite links to Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube links. You can sign up to get email updates or click to donate money. But outside of a few web videos, the site is hardly what you’d call interactive.

Romney’s site has a promising icon for “Action.” Click it and you come to a page with four options: fundraise, gear up, donate and volunteer. Unfortunately, not a single one of these options has a link. You may want to volunteer but there’s no clear way to do it. You can start an account under the dorkily-named “myMitt” program shamelessly taken from Barack Obama’s also poorly named “myBO.” But unlike Obama’s social networking site, this has barely any instructions. Once you log-in, even the site’s donate button goes away. All you can do is create fundraising goals for yourself.

All three candidates have time to unveil innovative strategies for winning the primary, and right now, Perry’s path is possibly the least obvious. experience, combined with his campaign’s willingness to take risks, has already yielded   has been running in enormous state, against tough candidates