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Clinton campaign digital strategist speaks at the GeekWire Summit 2016 at the Seattle Sheraton, October 5, 2016. Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire
Hillary Clinton campaign digital strategist Teddy Goff at the GeekWire Summit 2016 at the Seattle Sheraton, October 5, 2016. Photos by Dan DeLong for GeekWire

So what’s one of the high-tech secret tools being wielded by the Hillary Clinton campaign to persuade voters to pick their candidate?


“We’ve been shocked at how many people are responding favorably to these things,” said Teddy Goff, chief digital and technology strategist for Hillary for America, the official campaign working to elect Clinton president. SMS works great for volunteers fearful of being hung up on or rejected. Texting also is reasonably well-received by voters who often don’t want to answer phone calls.

“It’s a technology layer on top of old-fashioned organizing,” said Goff.

Goff shared his experiences with the campaigns to elect Clinton and President Obama in the final session of the 2016 GeekWire Summit, which wrapped up Wednesday in Seattle.

During the discussion, Clinton’s top tech adviser touched on a number of topics, everything from online voting (he thinks it is a long way off, but wishes it was available right now) to the bizarre turns during the 2016 presidential race, something Goff placed squarely on Republican nominee Donald Trump.

“He comes with a history that is just bonkers,” said Goff, adding that “Donald Trump is really an aberration.”

And while Goff noted that the Internet can be an amazing tool to improve awareness, he also said that it can lead to a sense of despair, helping to spread misinformation. And one of the myths that most befuddles and angers Goff is Trump’s use of the Internet to spread falsehoods that the election is somehow “rigged.”

In addition to text messages, Goff said email remains the most important technological weapon in terms of swaying voters, raising money and organizing volunteers.

“It’s not sexy, but is still the most powerful tool in our tool kit,” Goff told the crowd. Email also continues to be the best way to raise donations in the race with Donald Trump.

That isn’t to say that the Clinton campaign and its 70-person tech team isn’t using other, newer digital strategies. Campaign staff and volunteers rely on Slack for communicating with each other.

They have an email tool for local organizers to more efficiently rally supporters, rather than just sending massive email blasts from Clinton’s account. They’re active on the usual suspects — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. And while the tech isn’t necessarily cutting edge, the team uses it in innovative ways, Goff said.

“It doesn’t fall to presidential campaigns to be early adopters,” he said. It would be irresponsible to pull their limited resources from Facebook to a new, exciting app, “even if we think it’s really cool.”

Goff doesn’t lean toward tried-and-true technologies because he’s an aged technophobe wedded to the past. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that the Yale University graduate crossed into his 30s.

Four years ago, Goff was the digital director for the Obama reelection campaign. In that role, he oversaw a 250-person national team that managed the social media, email, online advertising, online organizing, front-end and product development, design and videos. The campaign raised close to $700 million and registered more than 1 million voters online. They recruited more than 45 million followers on Facebook and 33 million through Twitter.

Backing up another four years, in 2008 Goff led state-level, digital campaigns for Obama in more than 25 battleground states. Following the election, he was a member of Obama’s transition team and oversaw the creation of the new administration’s website.

Goff questioned by Seattle-based angel investor Heather Redman at the 2016 GeekWire Summit. (Dan DeLong)
Goff questioned by Seattle-based angel investor and tech executive Heather Redman at the 2016 GeekWire Summit. (Dan DeLong)

This year’s campaign, Goff said, is “weird and bizarre” with Trump in the running. He acknowledged that Trump, at least, considers himself an adept user of the internet and Twitter to share his message and rally support. The democratic strategist, however, said that Trump’s “unhinged and unscripted” Twitter account has polarized many Americans against him.

“The majority of the country …. is disgusted when he says what he says about Latinos and veterans and women and immigrants and everybody else,” Goff said.

“I hope he tweets more,” he said. “I think he should tweet every day, multiple times a day, 3 in the morning, 5 in the morning.” Even though Trump’s Twitter activity has won the candidate a lot of news cycles and attention, Goff said that not all publicity is good publicity, and “not all retweets are good retweets.”

Goff lamented the loss of some younger voters to third party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson.

But he said that the Clinton campaign wouldn’t be using a specific tech tactics to reach them and would be careful not to pander to millennial voters. Rather, he said their hope was to keep pushing the message that Clinton is a progressive candidate with a very similar voting record in the U.S. Senate with her former democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders.

“We’re trying to convey that she is aggressive and she is a fighter,” Goff said.

When it comes to winning more of the millennial vote, “I think we’re going to be able to move the needle,” Goff said. That said, “I don’t think we’re going to be able to make miracles happen.”

One of their important election tools is an enhanced voter database that helps them target certain voters. Starting with the basic, publicly available database that contains voter names, addresses, ages and, where available, party affiliation, the campaign layers on additional proprietary information.

Goff said he couldn’t share the approach being used in the Clinton campaign, but described the strategy for the Obama election, saying they would be similar.

Voters in the database are scored according to a variety of features, including their likelihood to select one candidate over another, whether they’re prone to being persuaded in favor of a candidate and the best way to contact them.

Because while technology provides terrific campaign tools, what’s most important, said Goff, is “one person talking to another person about when they vote, how they vote and why they should vote for Hillary Clinton.”

At the end of the session, Goff did not want to predict how many electoral votes that Clinton would receive on Nov. 8th, simply saying that he’d be “happy with 270,” the magic number the nominee needs to be elected president.

You can watch the full session here:

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