Republican Dan Bongino hopes a strong social media presence will help him overcome the fundraising deficit he has against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, and ultimately catapult him to victory this November.
"We knew from the beginning in our campaign that we would be fighting literally a machine," Bongino said. "A machine with money, access and a long history in Maryland."
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Cardin has raised more than $5 million to fund his re-election bid for the U.S. Senate in 2012. Bongino has raised just over $260,000, according to Open Secrets. That means the Severna Park Republican's campaign is operating on about 0.05 percent of budget Cardin has at his disposal.
"There are very few people in our campaign that are paid at all; maybe three or four," Bongino said.
The former Secret Service agent said his business background got him thinking about what he could add to his campaign that would distinguish him from Cardin.
"I noticed that [Cardin's] website was not really user friendly, so I decided that technology and social media was a way to differentiate ourselves and level the playing field," he said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Bonginio had 3,010 Facebook fans compared with Cardin's 3,760. On Twitter, where Bongino tweets significantly more than his Democratic counterpart, he boasts 2,435 followers to Cardin's 10,274.
The Republican also offers supporters a free iPhone app that Bongino said contains up-to-the-minute information about his fundraisers, events and photos from the campaign trail that don't make it on the website.
Bongino said approximately 200 people have downloaded the app, which was created free of charge for the campaign by a supporter.
He added that his campaign has received several technology donations that range from website help to advice on navigating Facebook.
Bongino also tweets and posts on Facebook himself in an effort to separate himself from the Cardin campaign.
"I had a social media person. I got rid of the person because I felt that the campaign was losing authenticity," Bongino said. "Unlike my opponent, you’re talking to the candidate, and you’re getting my unfiltered thoughts, not consultant screened material."
He said the only things he doesn't tweet are messages about campaign events and the occasional link to basic information about his position about an issue.
He said his social media push has brought people out in person.
"A guy from Anne Arundel County read my tweets about health care solutions, and came out to a sign waving we did," Bongino said.
And at the July Fourth parade in Annapolis, the Bongino campaign turned out about twice as many volunteers to march in the 90-degree weather. He attributes that success to his increasing social media presence.
Whether enough of Bongino's social media fans come out to vote for him this November remains to be seen.