Obama Uses Text Messaging With Eye On Nov. 4

The Obama campaign has used text messaging to communicate with its supporters. Andrew Rasiej, founder of TechPresident, a blog that focuses on technology and the presidential campaigns, says the cell phone numbers can be used to get out the vote on Nov. 4.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Tonight's rally at INVESCO Field involves more than listening to Senator Obama. Another dimension for those in the stadium is texting.

Texting is a hallmark of the Obama campaign. Here's an example - an Obama rally in Baltimore back in February, just before the Maryland primary. Before the candidate arrived, Obama's political director for the state, Nicole Price, asked everyone to look at a form that they'd been given when they entered and to take out their cell phones.

Ms. NICOLE PRICE (Maryland Political Director): If you're ready to win, if you're ready to go door to door for Senator Barack Obama, take out your cell phone and text the appropriate location on the back of your form. Are you sending the text message now?

SIEGEL: There were about 13,000 people at that rally, and thousands of them were texting at that moment. INVESCO Field seats more than 70,000. So what's happening on the texting front this evening?

Well, joining us from Denver is Andrew Rasiej, who's founder of TechPresident, a blog that focuses on how technology is being used by presidential campaigns. Andrew Rasiej joins us by his cell phone. Hi, how are you?

Mr. ANDREW RASIEJ (TechPresident): How are you?

SIEGEL: Tell us, tonight I gather the Obama campaign is going to do a lot of texting, telling people to text. What is happening at that moment? What are they doing when they ask people all to text some number?

Mr. RASIEJ: What they're doing is, is they are involving all the people at INVESCO Field in a process to build a large database of cell-phone numbers that they can then use to help get out the vote on November 4th.

SIEGEL: So if you send in the text message at that point, what you're really doing is you're saying, okay, you can have my number. You now know I'm an Obama supporter, and you know how to get back in touch with me very easily.

Mr. RASIEJ: Yes, and then the Obama campaign will ask those same people to use their contacts inside their cell phones and spread the message of the Obama campaign, and if those people accept the invitation, they will text back, and the Obama campaign will build an even bigger database.

SIEGEL: So as an event in the history of American political campaign texting, this is a big event?

Mr. RASIEJ: We are watching the conversion of our politics from the 20th century to the 21st. The Obama campaign has recognized that mobile technologies are one of the best ways to reach their base of supporters, who tend to be younger, are more wired and more active than their predecessors in years past.

SIEGEL: If there are 70,000 people in a stadium, not all of them are going to text, but they could count on tens of thousands perhaps?

Mr. RASIEJ: I would estimate that maybe 20 or 30 percent of the people in the stadium are very familiar with texting, and those who are not are quickly going to be taught by the people next to them how to do it because there's going to be some older folks in the stadium who may have cell phones but have never really gotten themselves familiar with the text-messaging communication.

So I would say half of the people at INVESCO are going to be texting out. So let's say that's 35,000. They're going to send out 35,000 messages, and then the campaign is going to ask them, when they receive their texts back, to send that message to all the contact numbers in the cell phone that each of those people have. So you have the potential for an exponential campaign of reaching people beyond those at INVESCO.

It's a little bit like a pebble falling on a quiet lake. It starts with a ring and another ring and another ring, and it starts to spread, and it gets wider and wider and wider.

SIEGEL: Andrew Rasiej, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. RASIEJ: Pleasure to hear, thank you.

SIEGEL: Mr. Rasiej is the founder of TechPresident. It's a blog, and it focuses on how technology is being used by the presidential campaigns.

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