The GOP Gets Serious About the Web for 2012 Election

The Grand Old Party is keen to look a little less, well, old: Republican politician Newt Gingrich plans to officially announce his candidacy for President on Wednesday through messages posted on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, his spokesman Rick Tyler told the Associated Press in a report published this morning.

Now, one could argue that Gingrich technically announced his candidacy via the Associated Press, since Tyler clearly went on the record with the AP to announce Gingrich’s intent. But the larger message is clear: Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter will play a major role in how at least one Republican candidate runs his campaign in the 2012 presidential election.

As a whole, Republican politicians have lagged slightly behind Democrats when it comes to utilizing the Internet in Presidential campaigns. While the web industry was booming in the first tech industry bubble, Republican George W. Bush famously referred to “the Internets” in a 2000 Presidential Debate. President Bush used the term again in his 2004 re-election campaign. It was a Democrat, Howard Dean, who first put online political fundraising on the map with his 2004 Presidential campaign. In the 2008 election, the Obama campaign ran an advertisement critiquing Republican candidate John McCain’s computer illiteracy. (The McCain campaign countered that the Senator’s war wounds make typing painful.)  Meanwhile, Democratic President Barack Obama is such a BlackBerry (s rimm) addict that he didn’t give up the device when he took office, making him the first President to use email routinely.

The GOP narrowed the gap in the 2010 mid-term elections with its use of online social networking tools, so it now looks like both parties could enter the 2012 election on equally tech-savvy footing. Gingrich’s evident enthusiasm to use the web in his campaign could signal a sea change in how Republican candidates run for President.

Whether you’re interested in politics or not, from a tech perspective it looks like the 2012 campaign is shaping up to be one to watch– or maybe even one you can’t escape. If Twitter and Facebook become more politically charged in the coming months, the old adage of avoiding the topic of politics when talking with friends and family might become increasingly hard to obey.