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Is Gingrich's 'NewtHampshire' site too little, too late?

To appeal to Granite State voters, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich has launched a website, NewtHampshire.com.
To appeal to Granite State voters, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich has launched a website, NewtHampshire.com.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republican candidate Newt Gingrich launched a website to aid his presidential campaign
  • The site, NewtHampshire.com, includes user profiles, hosting tools and a public leaderboard
  • It may be too late for Gingrich's new social media network to have a major impact

Editor's note: Micah Sifry is co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, a website that examines how technology is changing politics, and the author of "WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency." This commentary is part of a series of "Campaign Tech" articles that will run through 2012 and explore technology's role in the presidential election.

(CNN) -- Having surged to the top of national polls of likely Republican voters, Newt Gingrich's campaign for president is hoping to capitalize on the attention with a sophisticated website aimed solely at New Hampshire voters called, appropriately enough, NewtHampshire.com.

For a Republican candidate, the site -- launched Monday and separate from his main campaign site, Newt.org -- is cutting-edge in its versatility.

Built on the NationBuilder platform, a startup that has been catering to smaller organizations looking for less expensive "campaign in a box" tools, NewtHampshire has every bell and whistle you could ask for: user profiles, badges to reward volunteer activity, tracking links so users can monitor their own progress recruiting others, event hosting tools and a public leaderboard to spur activity.

It's all very cool -- and it's coming into play less than two months before the primary.

That's not a small problem. It takes time to build strong local campaign organizations in early primary states like New Hampshire, where many voters expect to be courted personally by the candidates. It also takes time to build online networks through the organic but valuable spread of friend-of-a-friend connections.

An online social network for Gingrich in the Granite State may help him short-cut things, but it's pretty late to just be getting started. Not only that, but the available data on his overall Web presence suggest that Gingrich isn't getting as big a bounce from Republican activists as Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, prior beneficiaries of the "anybody but Mitt Romney" effect.

Running for president seems to be helping generate interest in Newt's website and social network presence online, but not as much as one might think.

A little more than half a year ago, at the beginning of March, I took a look at Newt Gingrich's presence online, in part to establish some baselines for comparison. While his homepage, Newt.org, is seeing a healthy jump in traffic after collapsing between June and August, third-party data suggest that this shift is not all that impressive.

Compete.com estimates that Newt.org got 153,000 unique visitors in October, compared with 274,000 for RonPaul2012.com, 207,000 for MittRomney.com, 150,000 for MicheleBachmann.com and 72,000 for RickPerry.org. That's not bad for Gingrich, but it's hardly close to the 945,000 unique visits HermanCain.com got in October, while he was peaking, or the 500,000 that Bachmann got at her campaign's height in May.

Compete doesn't have data posted for November yet, so it's possible Gingrich is seeing a more significant surge. But if Facebook is any indication, Gingrich may not be having that fantastic a month online, even as he's risen to the top in polls of Republican voters.

On Facebook, Gingrich's base has grown 78% since March, from 100,600 to 179,491 as of Monday. In the same time frame, Romney's base has grown 57%, from 753,845 to 1,188,905. In relative terms then, Newt is hotter than Mitt, but he is way behind in real terms.

He's also got a ways to go to catch up with last month's GOP shooting star, Herman Cain, who has more than 391,000 likes.

What all this suggests is plain. Newt's long history in national politics may be preventing him from getting the support of anxious Republican primary voters looking for a fresh face who can push Romney off his front-runner pedestal. At earlier points in the election process, candidates like Bachmann and Cain -- relative newcomers to the national scene -- got a huge boost in online interest.

Something similar is starting to happen for Newt. But the early signs suggest it will be too little, too late.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Micah Sifry.

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