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The GOP Primary in 140 Characters

What the Twitter contest between Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina tells us about their campaigns for governor.

A view of the GOP governor's race from Twitter.

The candidates get just 140 characters for each post on Twitter, the popular microblogging site, but their short dispatches do reveal patterns over time.

Take the tweets published by contestants in next's year's GOP primary for governor: Incumbent Rick Perry and challengers Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina.

Word clouds, created with the Java applet Wordle, magnify common phrases from their tweets. As you might expect, the candidates like to talk about themselves.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, or @TeamKay, has an account run mostly by her campaign with occasional messages from the candidate herself. It started in March and has posted 464 tweets.

The campaign relies heavily on hash tags, such as #KBH, which makes messages by @TeamKay easier to find and aggregate.

"We view Twitter as another avenue to filter out information to our supporters and to people who are interested in the campaign, and to do that as easily as possible by using hash tags and common words," said spokesman Joe Pounder. "It's our way of networking our information, so that's why I think our hash tags are so prominent."

Here's an example:


Then there's the account used by Perry's campaign: @GovPerry2010. Much like @TeamKay, the governor's team relies on self promotion and common hash tags used by his supporters, such as #tcot (top conservatives on Twitter) or @txcot (Texas conservatives on Twitter). It's by far the most prolific account in the race, with 1631 tweets since January. 

The campaign is also fond of retweeting, or republishing, others' comments — as evidenced by the large "RT" in the middle of the cloud:


The governor, however, also tweets more personal messages from @GovernorPerry. There, followers can read about his travels, Aggie football and pictures of the family dogs, Lucy and Rory. He's posted 584 messages since creating the account in January.

"It's another tool to reach out to people, and the governor tweets all the time personally when he's on the road," said Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner. "It's another mechanism that the campaign is using to reach more people."

Here's an example:


Miner said the governor is comfortable with social media, and he questioned why Hutchison hasn't created a personal account to communicate with constituents.

"One of the good things about the medium is that it allows you to be personable and lets you share events and what you're doing with people," he said. "It sounds like they don't have the confidence that she wouldn't go out there and tweet something that would get them in trouble."

Pounder, the senator's spokesman, said the campaign believes a single account best accomplishes the campaign's goals.

"We want to have one central place for people to come and get information," he said. "It makes it more streamlined and easier for people."

The other candidate in the race, Debra Medina, uses a mix of personal and professional tweets on her account, @DebMedina, which has updated 416 times since launching in December.

She touts campaign statements, using plenty of hash tags, but she's also not averse to discussing her travels or even coffee choices — a style that fits the campaign, a spokeswoman said.

"Debra has been doing a grass-roots campaign, which is always very difficult to do," said the spokeswoman, Nelda Carrizales Skevington. "It makes it more personable when she's tweeting about her road trips or who she's been meeting with or what she's eating. It gives you a more in-depth portrait of the person, from tweet to tweet."

Here's an example:


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2010 elections Griffin Perry Rick Perry