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By Stump Connolly

Keeping up with the latest trends in technology is not my forte, but it comes with the territory. Twitter, the 140-character Internet medium for communicating your latest thought, has taken over political reporting––and woe be to the reporter who hasn’t climbed aboard.

Never mind that the most popular political tweeter, Slate political reporter and CBS TV anaylst John Dickenson, has 1,387,703 followers. That still pales before the 22 million people who tune in every night to watch the evening news.

But there are certain reporters who now tweet so regularly, and so constantly––and are read by so many of their fellow reporters––their combined Twitter feeds have become the narrative web on top of which the 2012 presidential campaign bounces along. I call them The Twitterati, and they are well worth their own Tweetdeck.

The Top 20

I have listed my Top 20 below. They are by no measure the only, or best, political reporters I will be following in the upcoming campaign.

Anyone who has walked the campaign trail before watches the Washington Post’s Dan Balz and New York Times’s Adam Nagourney for signals on voter trends. Magazine columnists like Joe Klein, Frank Rich, Matt Taibbi, Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, and John Heilemann, just to name a few, are also essential reading. And there’s no substitute for enterprising new reporters who put their boots on the ground to give a fresh perspective on what’s happening in American politics.

But I’ve singled out these 20 because they are a) insightful b) wide-read c) funny and d) prolific posters.

My list includes people I’d read whether they had a Twitter account or not: Roger Simon of Politico, Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times, and Chris Cillizza, the Washington Post’s master conductor of political gossip. It includes the proprietors of three websites that are critical for any political reporter: Politifact, the Pulitzer-prize winning fact-checking site produced by The St. Petersburg Times; Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight that statistically analyzes political trends; and Ezra Klein’s twitter link to his Washington Post Wonkblog that simplifies complex political policy issues with words and charts.

My list this year is also weighted toward Republican pundits – because that’s where the action is: Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political advisor; Byron York, chief political correspondent of the Washington Examiner; Kevin Madden, the former press secretary for both George Romney and House Speaker John Boehner (now a K-street lobbyist); and Mike Murphy, the Republican political consultant now trying to make a name for himself in Hollywood. If I expanded the list to 21 (and if he were funnier), I would have included Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review.

I have a few obscure names in the list: Jennifer Jacobs, a political reporter for the Des Moines Register, who is fast becoming Twitter’s canary in the Iowa coal mine alerting other reporters to what’s happening on the ground there. And the Huffington Post’s Jon Ward, who is no great shakes at political analysis but a good conduit of links to articles and other posts worth reading.

Everyone Has Their Own Tweetdeck

Everyone has their own favorite pundit. Usually it’s the person who agrees with them most. Tweetdeck allows us to pick and choose who we want to follow. I can, for instance, put my conservative pundits in one deck and my liberal ones in another. But these are my current favorites. Think of them as my Fantasy Politics Team: 20 people I want to watch the next election unfold with. They are my real time guide to what’s happening day-to-day in the presidential race. Follow them along with me, and you too can enjoy the show.

The Tea Party Debate

Roger Ebert once defined a film critic as someone who watches himself watch a movie. With that in mind, I sat down last Monday watching my 20 chosen Twitterati watch the CNN Tea Party debate. I had a TV remote control unit in one hand and a laptop opened to Twitter in the other. It didn’t take long before the tweets started pouring in.

politicoroger Roger Simon

Just waiting for the #CNNTeaParty debate my hands are getting sweaty. No, wait. That’s from the beer bottle.

jonathanweisman Jonathan Weisman

I can’t believe I have to turn this tennis match off to cover this.

ktumulty Karen Tumulty.

Pre-game warm-up guy is coaching the audience to applaud. Have never seen that at a debate.

The CNN coverage kicked off with a hyped-up graphic opening introducing the candidates that could have been a Monday Night Football promo. It was duly noted:

pwire Taegan Goddard

The pro wrestling match, I mean presidential debate, is about to begin.

jonward11 Jon Ward

do i really, truly have to listen to two hours of this voice? #thewolf

NKingofDC Neil King, WSJ retweet by KevinMaddenDC

Jeez, is this the World Series or a debate?

pwire Taegan Goddard

Is there a home run derby before the game starts?

mattklewis Matt Lewis retweet by jonward11

When do the two helmets collide and explode?

KevinMaddenDC Kevin Madden

It’s gonna get smoky in there when they shoot the cannon off…

The introductions and hoopla lasted for some 12 minutes. At 7:13 PM, a member of the Tea Party rose from the audience to ask the first question: How are the candidates going to convince senior citizens to vote for them?

jeffzeleny Jeff Zeleny

Debate is opening now. Turning my typing — and attention — to the main event. Tight newspaper deadlines=limited tweeting.

pourmecoffee pourmecoffee retweeted by benpolitico

All candidates must sing their answers in the form of an anthem.

jonward11 Jon Ward

wow – Bachmann says Obama “stole” $500 billion from Medicare to put it into Obamacare

jaketapper Jake Tapper

.@MicheleBachmann says she had “feet” in the private sector and “a foot” in government. That’s at least three feet, congresswoman!

fivethirtyeight Nate Silver

Bachmann is considerably sharper tonight than last week.

pwire Taegan Goddard

Romney goes in for the kill. He knows this is his moment to fatally wound his rival and he can’t whiff. Democrats love this.

politifact PolitiFact

We checked Perry earlier on retirement programs in other Texas counties Mostly True.

jdickerson John Dickerson

Perry running away from his book at a high rate of speed on social security question but crowd seems to be with him.

fivethirtyeight Nate Silver

CNN doing much more to equalize the face time of the candidates.

jonward11 Jon Ward

ron paul on social security/medicare: “we should have never started it.”

ron_fournier Ron Fournier retweeted by politicoroger

Perry says it’s time for a serious conversation about Social Security. But, judging from his ducking and dodging, not tonight.

Thirty minutes into the debate, CNN broke for its first commercial and Jeff Zeleny wondered whether the audience at home was feeling the energy of the rightwingers in the auditorium.

jeffzeleny Jeff Zeleny

First quarter of debate is over: Perry is benefiting from very friendly audience. But how are Republicans responding at home?

Chris Cillizza of The Fix was wondering the same thing.

TheFix The Fix

Romney, smartly, is less focused on the audience in the room and more focused on Republicans watching the debate.

Over the next 90 minutes of the debate, the Twitterati were not the only politicos banging the keys as they watched. “Truth teams” – what used to be called “Rapid Response units” in past elections – were blasting out their own version of rebuttals and corrections on behalf of the candidates. The PerryTruthTeam, for instance, bombarded reporters with more than 18 tweets; Team Bachmann sent out 22; and Mitt Romney operatives (through a variety of accounts) matched them twit-for-twat all evening long. Some inevitably found their way into the online conversation:

jdickerson John Dickerson from @EdMorrissey

I got an e-mail from Team Newt just before the debate taking credit for job creation, by the way.

jonward11 Jon Ward

romney campaign now saying perry is retreating on prescription drugs as well, citing his criticism of Medicare part d in “Fed Up”

jonward11 Jon Ward

perry campaign puts out release saying Romney was gov during econ growth, & perry has governed during recession. why didn’t perry say that?

During the most inflammatory moments of the debate, the Twitterati pounced. Here are some comments on Michele Bachmann’s charge that Perry, while governor of Texas, issued an executive order mandating that 12-year-old girls get cervical cancer vaccine.

jonward11 Jon Ward

perry gives a flat out admission that he made a mistake on the HPV mandate. he did not do that last Wednesday.

RichLowry Rich Lowry

bachmann amps up attack on perry on vaccine, and makes obamacare comparison–first attack on perry that hit home

RichLowry Rich Lowry

bachmann brings in drug company–first time cronyism comes up, a real potential vulnerabilty

jonward11 Jon Ward

HPV issue spiraling out of control here for Perry

howardfineman Howard Fineman

Bachmann takes the gloves off on virus vaccine, accusing him of a corrupt deal. Perry says “offended” at the thought he can be bought for 5K.

politicoroger Roger Simon

Perry: “If you’re suggesting I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.” Right. It takes much more than that.

RichLowry Rich Lowry

perry staying cool, which is important, but he’s taken on some water here.

benpolitico Ben Smith

I wouldn’t sneeze at $5000.

benpolitico Ben Smith

Also, I want some of whatever they gave Perry before this debate. Took the edge right off.

jdickerson John Dickerson

Perry said “Amen”. Was that in response to Cain or that they’d moved on from the HPV issue.

murphymike mike murphy

Please, CNN … DON’T get her started on flurodated water!

And there were other randomly posted quotes from my fantasy deck of twitterers that are worth repeating. Among them:

murphymike mike murphy

Listening to Perry try to a put a complicated policy sentence together is like watching a chimp play with a locked suitcase…

politicoroger Roger Simon

Bachmann doesn’t think govt has the right to make us “buy a product or service.” What about the seatbelts in every car? V-chips in every TV?

Conclusion

The CNN Tea Party debate lasted two hours. By the time it ended, I had accumulated 46 pages of tweets from my selected observers. The debate drew an estimated 3.6 million viewers. The online chatter among The Twitterati, by contrast, was seen by fewer than 50,000. But these are the media mavens who talk among themselves, sharing impressions online of the momentary notions that make up our political life.

Everybody is in on it. The candidates, the political operatives, the reporters, even the media executives who are determined to find a way to “monetize” the process. The only guys who don’t really understand what’s going on here are the voters. For them, this presidential election is a decision on who is the best person to lead the nation into the future. For the rest of us political junkies, it’s an interactive game that all of us can participate in via our Twitter accounts.

So tweet away, you all so wise. There’s nothing wrong with being clever. At this point, a little humor isn’t going to hurt the political process. But when the days start ticking down to the November 2012 election, let’s hope this all sheds some light on the final candidates so the voters understand the choices before them.


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