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October 26th 2011

Candidates embrace digital campaigning

By Rich Griset

Carrie Coyner (right), candidate for school board in the Bermuda District, campaigning at the Kiwanis Club of Chester’s 2011 Fall Seafood Festival.
Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer

Carrie Coyner (right), candidate for school board in the Bermuda District, campaigning at the Kiwanis Club of Chester’s 2011 Fall Seafood Festival. Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Editor: Details about candidates’ websites were collected on Oct. 13, when the Observer undertook an assessment of online campaigning.

With elections for the board of supervisors and the school board approaching, virtually every candidate has gone digital, using the Internet to get their messages out.

All supervisor candidates and most school board candidates have websites. Only Matoaca School Board candidate S.M. Siddiqi had no virtual campaign. He didn’t have a website or use Facebook, and he wasn’t tweeting.

Among the flashiest web sites are the two posted by Bermuda board of supervisor incumbent Dorothy Jaeckle, a Republican, and Bermuda school board candidate Carrie E. Coyner. Both were designed by the Chester-based website firm,, which is owned by Coyner’s husband, Matt Coyner.

Stella Edwards, school board candidate in Bermuda District, campaigns during the Kiwanis Club of Chester’s 2011 Fall Seafood Festival. Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Jaeckle’s challenger, Independent Mark Fausz, said he sees the Internet as a means of getting across a more detailed version of his message. “I think the best use of a website is to put out the longer version of the planks in your platform,” he said. “Meeting face to face with people, there isn’t necessarily an opportunity to tell the whole story.”

Among supervisor candidates, all but one – Jim Holland, an incumbent Democrat from Dale District – have campaigned via the social network, Facebook.

As of Oct. 13, Fausz led the pack for followers, with 92 likes on his Facebook page, and Jaeckle came in second, with 61 likes on her page. (Both Bermuda candidates post on their Facebook pages more consistently than other supervisor contenders.)

Meanwhile, Dale District challenger Cliff Bickford, a Republican, had 39 likes on his Facebook page; Matoaca District challenger Steve Elswick, also Republican, had 21, and Matoaca incumbent Marleen Durfee, an Independent, had 12.

Durfee and Elswick stand out for being the only supervisor candidates with Twitter accounts, at least as of Oct. 13. Elswick had three followers and Durfee had two, while Jaeckle said that although she once had a Twitter account, she took it down because she never used it. “I don’t even know what [Tweeting] means,” she said.

Although Facebook is less popular among school board candidates, a handful are web-savvy enough to use it.

Coyner’s Facebook page led the field with 181 likes. “I think it’s great,” she said. “Folks of the Internet generation are now getting involved [in politics].” She’s alone among school board candidates in having a Twitter account. As of Oct. 13, though, she only had one post and eight followers.

Bermuda candidate Stella Edwards’ Facebook page had 39 likes, and Dale challenger Michael Jackson’s Facebook page had 36 likes. “With Facebook you have the opportunity to do real time questions and answers,” said Edwards.

Coyner, Edwards and Jackson all have updated their pages regularly. Dale incumbent David Wyman had three likes on his Facebook page, though nothing was posted in his wall.

But while many candidates have joined the digital age this campaign year, they say that when it comes to local politics, voters are still using traditional media.

“[The Web is] not where people go for their main source of information in a local election,” Jaeckle said. “People read the newspapers and [consider] the talk around town.”

And if the amount of political signage is any measure, voters must also read signs. During the week of Oct. 10, Elswick led the supervisor race, with 800 yard signs. “I think signs are good for name recognition,” he said. “I think placement is the most important thing.”

Jaeckle had 400 yard signs, and she had ordered another 300. Bickford had 500 yard signs, and Holland had between 300 and 400 yard signs, including five to 10 larger signs. Fausz had 250 yard signs out and about 15 large signs displayed. Wyman declined to disclose the number of signs he had, and Durfee did not agree to a request for an interview.

On the school board side, Coyner led with 500 yard signs, and she had another 300 on the way. Doland had 75 to 100 signs and Siddiqi said he will have 10 to 15 by Election Day. Edwards declined to disclose how many signs she is using, as did Peter Foster, Rajah’s campaign manager. Jackson did not respond to reporter’s questions.

The majority of candidates interviewed believe that face-to-face interaction is the most important campaigning strategy in this election.

“There’s nothing more powerful,” Holland said.

Bickford said that he prefers campaigning at football games and back-to-school nights. “I would say those have been more efficient than going door-to-door,” he said.

Other candidates believe that a mixture of strategies is important. “I think every technique is valuable,” said Edwards, adding that using the Web helps candidates reach different groups and demographics. “The idea is to reach the masses with your message.”

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