The use of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter has become more prevalent in the political world as candidates, parties, and elected officials look to reach potential voters and constituents through every possible communication medium. The use of these tools is beneficial to candidates in offering politicians the ability to post lightning-fast responses to bad press and allows them to share links and pictures of campaigns or other official duties. But social media can also be used against candidates, as is happening in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District Republican primary contest between Vaughn Ward, a Marine reservist, and state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle.
For those who think Labrador went too far in going after Ward’s wife Kirsten for working at in the information technology department at Fannie Mae, a government-supported home lending agency, while her husband campaigns against bailout dollars, which Fannie Mae has been a recipient of, Mark Trail of Rathdrum, Idaho, a small town near Coeur d’Alene in north Idaho, has you covered. Trail formed a group called “Tell Raul Labrador to stop bashing Vaughn Ward’s wife!” on Facebook and has invited others to join, though only five others have agreed to become members of the group. The “wall,” or the central meeting and posting place for the group, features a message from Trail explaining what happened at the debate, according to him, and and a link to Labrador’s fan page to voice displeasure directly to the candidate.
Trail, who works for the campaign as a volunteer, said he formed the group to urge Labrador to refocus his message. “This campaign needs to be about issues,” Trail said. Many times in political campaigns, volunteers or even high-level staffers will use social media outlets and blogs to tear down an opposing candidate, often times with the approval of a campaign manager or communication director. Trail says that is not the case with his group. “I do not speak for the campaign. I speak for myself and I did it on my own volition,” he said. He said that he works for the Ward campaign in get-out-the-vote door knocking efforts.
One of the advantages of social media is the anonymity that can be used as a tool to attack political foes. Though Trail is forthright about his identity and the functions of his group, not everyone is, including someone using Twitter to knock Ward. The Twitter account is named “No2VaughnWard,” and regularly heckles Ward for his policy positions and the trouble he has been having with his campaign as of late. Some of the more recent posts from the account question Ward’s geography skills in relation to Puerto Rico (where Labrador was born; in a debate, Ward said it was a foreign country), mocks former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s impending visit to Boise to stump for Ward, and claims that Ward is a slick politician and Washington, D.C., insider. “Vaughn Ward PLAGIARIZED quotes from other politician’s websites. I learned not to do this in Junior High English class,” reads one of the Twitter posts from Tuesday. The account has the ability to be a major voice in the social media realm of the campaign; the “No2VaughnWard” account has only 50 fewer followers than Ward himself, who boasts 740, and Labrador, who has 533 followers.
Though the identity of the person behind this Twitter account is not known by IdahoReporter.com, Labrador spokesman Dennis Mansfield said that the tweets, or messages sent via Twitter, are not coming from inside his camp. “I know who it is, but it’s not coming from inside our campaign,” Mansfield said. Like Trail and his anti-Labrador group on Facebook, Mansfield confirmed that the person behind the anti-Ward Twitter account is a Labrador supporter but not a campaign worker.
Requests for an interview from IdahoReporter.com to the individual behind the “No2VaughnWard” Twitter account have not received any response.