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Political strategists praise power of online fundraising

Obama, Rubio, Paul cited as politicians already seeing benefits

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Digital strategists Teddy Goff and Zac Moffatt worked for warring candidates during the 2012 presidential election, but they both agree that successful politicians going forward will fully embrace online engagement — and reap financial rewards from it.

Moffatt, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s digital director, points to Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., as candidates with particular online fundraising savvy — and both rising stars in the U.S. Senate who may be considering 2016 presidential bids.

“It’ll be interesting to see how much Rand Paul raised off the filibuster,” Moffatt said, alluding to Paul’s nearly 13-hour talk-a-thon in March against the confirmation of John Brennan to be the new CIA director.

Moffatt also remarked on how Rubio, who faced criticism and ridicule in February about drinking from a water bottle during his rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, turned a potential gaffe into an online fundraising opportunity.

Rubio's tactic? Offer reusable Rubio water bottles for a donation of $25 or more, with the cash benefiting his Reclaim America PAC.

Today, the first three listings returned from a search on Google for "Rubio water bottle" pertain not to the senator's liquid-guzzling speech, but the success of his water bottle fundraiser.

Rubio is a client of Targeted Victory, Moffatt's consulting firm.

Goff, the digital director for Obama’s re-election campaign, declined to identify any specific politicians that he sees carrying the torch forward following a panel discussion Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. But he said the power of online fundraising is evident.

Consider that Obama’s 2012 campaign reportedly raised a staggering $690 million online, often with low-dollar donors giving repeatedly over the course of the election.

Romney's online fundraising never came close, with the former Massachusetts governor more heavily relying on large-dollar contributions.

How powerful is the Internet for converting enthusiasm from supporters into cold, hard cash?

“It’s probably the most powerful by the end of [a campaign] because it’s the most scalable and flexible,” Moffatt told the Center for Public Integrity. “When it ramps, nothing else can really match it."

The Obama campaign notably engaged in extensive A/B testing of its online fundraising appeals — everything from the tone to the suggested donation amount to the subject line.

But Goff warned that replicating techniques alone won’t guarantee success for other politicians.

“Some of the tactics of testing and optimization, sure that will be replicable, but that wasn’t what raised all that money,” Goff said, adding that it was “the relationships” with grassroots supporters that “brought in those donations.”

Politicians who “honor” grassroots supporters, not just in rhetoric but by prioritizing them in the way a campaign is organized, could see similar success, Goff said.

“Obviously I think that President Obama is a pretty special candidate, but people are going to support all kinds of different candidates going forward in both parties,” he added. “Someone is going to come around who is able to inspire a lot of people.”