House hopefuls Tweet for votes

House hopefuls Tweet for votes

November 28th, 2009 by Matt Wilson in Politics Local

The candidates in the race to fill Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District seat don't always share the same opinions on issues, but they all have at least one thing in common.

They all know how to Tweet.

At least nine of the 10 candidates -- Democrat, Republican and independent -- use the online social networking service Twitter.

"I think it does help," said Chattanooga businessman Tommy Crangle, a Republican candidate for the seat. "It lets people know that you're out there doing something."

Although the six Republicans, two Democrats and one independent in the race have their own Twitter accounts, some make more use of the service than others.

One of the most frequent Tweeters is Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble, a Republican. He said the service is "a good way to get to know the candidate a little better."

But Sheriff Gobble said he exercises caution when posting his thoughts, which often are policy positions, noting that Twitter's 140-character limit makes it tough to go into detail.

"You need to think about what you're writing and how it's perceived," he said.

Those limitations are why former Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers, a Democrat, said she prefers Facebook, another social networking Web site, to Twitter.

"Far more people use Facebook, and it allows group discussion, links and photos," she said.

But former Tennessee Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Smith uses Twitter specifically to send links and spur discussion, said spokesman Mark Winslow.

"Robin uses it to share her views and refer followers to articles she believes are important in debating the issues that face the country," he said.

Twitter provides "a true unfiltered line of communication to Tennesseans," he added.

Chattanooga attorney Chuck Fleischmann, also a Republican, expressed a similar sentiment, calling Twitter "a very, very strong" way to get his message out immediately.

"As long as you're honest and straightforward in what you're saying, it can be a very useful tool," he said.

Dr. John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said he views Twitter as "basically a new way to do press releases."

"It's kind of like the old-style fax machine," he said. "It's a way of exchanging information and I don't think it's much more than that."

But Dr. Geer said he didn't think using the site necessarily would translate into votes.

Cleveland, Tenn., businessman Art Rhodes, a Republican, said he updates his Twitter account maybe once a week. He said President Barack Obama successfully used Twitter to bring crowds to events during his presidential campaign last year, but Mr. Rhodes doesn't see the site as facilitating exchanges with supporters.

"It's more one-way communication," he said.

Mr. Crangle said he recently had some problems with his account being hacked. He said he wasn't sure what the hackers sent out under his name, but he was alerted to the violation.

"You have to watch that," he said.

Greg Goodwin, also a Republican, said he doesn't use Twitter as much as he could, partially because he is put off by some of the explicit advertising content. Still, he said he sees Twitter as a viable campaign tool, though his account has not been updated since Oct. 10.

Chattanooga Democrat Brent Benedict, a systems analyst, has not yet posted to his Twitter account. He said he would begin soon, once his campaign heats up. He said he's intentionally "flying below the radar" right now.

Independent Mark DeVol, of Andersonville, Tenn., said he sees a place for Twitter in political communication, but he has not updated his account since Oct. 17.

One Republican candidate, Van Irion, did not have an account that could be found in a search for his name, and Mr. Irion could not be reached for comment.

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On Twitter, people can "follow" other users to see their updates. Here's how many people were following the 3rd District candidates as of Friday afternoon, as well as their Twitter usernames.


* Tommy Crangle (@tommycrangle): 89

* Tim Gobble (@timgobble): 266

* Greg Goodwin (@TennGreg): 34

* Chuck Fleischmann (@chuck4congress): 102

* Art Rhodes (@ArtforCongress): 32

* Robin Smith (@robints): 1,095


* Brent Benedict (@BBenedict2010): 4

* Paula Flowers (@paulaflowers): 277


* Mark DeVol (@markdevol): 265