Who’s the web savviest presidential candidate of all?


Running for president requires web presence. Facebook, Twitter, web videos and websites that take online donations are ubiquitous among this year's presidential contenders. Yet, in an ever-more sophisticated technical world, the basics are not enough, and each candidate is trying some unique approaches to mine the Internet for donations — a key to President Obama's fundraising success in 2008.

As the GOP race moves today into the president's home state, Sunlight has taken a look at what the major contenders are doing on the web:

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney,  hoping that a commanding win in today's Illinois primary will solidify his status as the GOP frontrunner, is going mobile in an effort to reach a constituency that so far has proven elusive for the former Massachusetts governor: small donors. The Romney compaign is currently developing an iPhone and Android app that can collect donations using a card reader. (Photo courtesy of the Romney campaign.) Politico reported that the Obama campaign also has a square card reader in the works.

Romney's campaign is also encouraging supporters to create highly individualized "MyMitt" donation pages for individuals, creating online micro-bundlers. The pages are made with a template, much like a Facebook profile page. Users can enter a picture, name the page, and set a fundraising goal up to $10,000. They can then invite friends to make donations to Romney via their pages by  email or social media. It's the online political fundraising strategy that origniated in the Howard Dean campaign.

Romney's latest release on his campaign finances indicates that he's seeing an uptick in donations from more modest givers, but his campaign's performance with this giving constituency so far suggests he can use the help attracting small donors. Of the donations Open Secrets has tabulated so far, just 10 percent came in amounts less than $200. 

Barack Obama

That compares to 47 percent for President Obama's campaign. Obama's campaign website currently features a "Dinner with Barack" contest that takes would-be winners to a donate page that invites contributions of as little as $10. Romney's campaign is trying a similar gambit, asking for as little as three dollars to enter a contest to be "Mitt's special guest on Election Night" 

Taking another page from popular social networking sites, the Obama campaign website has an extensive list of groups for supporters to join: African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, en Espanol, Jewish Americans, Latinos, LGBT Americans, People of Faith, Military and Veterans, women and young Americans. Of the presidential front-runners, Obama is the only one to feature a Spanish-language portal prominently on his home page. 

Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich's campaign website provides several widgets for bloggers, including embeddable links that draw people directly to the former House speaker's donate page. Gingrich is also using Foursquare, a location based social media platform that allows participants to electronically sign in to events. The information is then used to create maps of supporters checking in. The Gingrich campaign also provides Facebook-ready icons for supporters to identify themselves as bloggers, educators, people of faith, Hispanics and Reagan Conservatives. Gingrich contributions under $200:  48 percent.

Rick Santorum

Besides the basic online features — allowing supporters to make campaign calls from home, donate online, volunteer, buy items from the campaign store and learn about public events — Rick Santorum also offers a low-tech tool for supporters: donate by phone. This may be especially reassuring for supporters who aren't comfortable providing  credit card information over the Internet, among them: seniors.  According the Pew Internet survey, only 41% of people over 65 use the internet. Santorum contributions under $200: 49 percent.

Ron Paul

Ron Paul's campaign website offers ample opportunities to post pages and events to social media sites. It shows 32 Facebook coalitions in support of the 76-year-old lawmaker.  There is a call from home option, although Paul's website is the only one among the major presidential contenders that does not highlight this on its main page. Paul's contributions under $200: 47 percent.