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Originally published July 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 23, 2007 at 6:55 AM

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Vote 4 me: Democrats look to power of the text

If Sen. Barack Obama is your guy, dial 62262 ...ich spells "Obama" — on your cellphone and text "Go. " For supporters of Sen...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — If Sen. Barack Obama is your guy, dial 62262 — which spells "Obama" — on your cellphone and text "Go." For supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, punch in 77007 and text "Join." Text "Today" to 30644 if you're a fan of John Edwards.

A small but growing list of presidential candidates, all Democrats, are jumping on the text-messaging bandwagon. With more than three-quarters of Americans estimated to own cellphones — and more than 15 billion text messages sent across the U.S. each month — campaigns believe it's a technology they can't afford not to exploit.

Aides for Obama, D-Ill., the latest to launch a mobile campaign, say they will use text messaging to organize events and urge supporters to donate money. Hours before a recent Democratic forum at Howard University, his campaign sent this message: "Debate tonight! Watch Barack Obama. ... "

"Your cellphone is probably the one piece of technology that is with you all the time," said Joe Rospars, Obama's new-media director. "The reality is, I don't think there's a campaign or a political organization right now that has figured out how to smartly use this technology. There's going to be a lot of experimentation."

With their foray into text messaging — also known as SMS, for short-message service — campaigns are taking a cue from corporations and nonprofits that have used text messaging to get their message to an increasingly mobile population.

So far the Democratic front-runners are using texting in varied ways.

Edwards, the first to launch a mobile campaign, has sent text messages urging his supporters to join his Young America program (text "Summer" to 30644) and to sign a petition to end the war in Iraq (text "Iraq" to 30644).

In May, his campaign launched a fundraising drive that started off with a text message and was followed by a recorded phone call from Edwards himself: "Hi, this is John Edwards. Thank you for taking the time to respond to our text and listen to my message. ... "

Clinton, D-N.Y., who announced her mobile campaign in mid-May, has sent several text messages, including one about her debate appearance and another urging supporters to vote for their favorite campaign song.

Obama e-mailed his supporters about his mobile campaign and asked them to text "Strk" and their mailing address to get free Obama bumper stickers — another way to update and build his mailing list.

In addition, Obama is offering seven ringtones (his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention mixed with a hip-hop or rock beat, for example) and four cellphone wallpapers (two Obama photos and two Obama logos). Everything's free (text "ringtone1" and "image1" to get them), though standard texting rates apply.

Supporters can send their ringtone and wallpaper ideas, and they can text questions about health care, for example, and get a response from a small group of volunteers and staffers. Within about an hour, if not a few minutes, a text such as "Iraq?" gets this response: "... Barack has been strongly against the war since 2002. Please visit www.barackobama.com/issues/iraq ... 2 learn more."

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Oberman has closely followed the mobile campaigns.

"Of the three, Obama has had the smoothest release of a mobile campaign so far. You can tell that his camp has really thought it through," he said. "Edwards, I think, has been the most innovative — the 'stop the war in Iraq' petition, the prerecorded fundraising pitch.

"I'm a little disappointed with Clinton's," Oberman said. "A text-messaging campaign shouldn't be about telling me to go online and vote for a campaign song. It's about Clinton telling me to meet somewhere for a local Meetup event. It's about Clinton telling me to sign a petition. It's about something that takes into account my surroundings.

"Remember, my cellphone is with me everywhere, so what comes to my phone better be personal to me. Otherwise it's unnecessary."

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