Presidential Campaigns Buy Up Domain Names for 'Microsites'

There is no website at theapologistinchief.com or agingrockstar2012.com yet, but these are two of dozens of web addresses Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has purchased and could use to tweak President Obama.

Ethernet cable connected to laptop computer.
Paul Eekhoff | Photographer's Choice RF | Getty Images
Ethernet cable connected to laptop computer.

Experts in digital media say campaigns and political organizations of all stripes increasingly use the "microsites" as tools to draw attention to an issue, brand an opposing candidate or raise money around specific themes.

"It's absolutely a good strategy," said Vincent Harris, a digital consultant who worked with the GOP presidential campaigns of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House speaker Newt Gingrich. "The shorter, the catchier the name the better."

Romney-owned domain names, some of which may never be used, track the progress of themes through the primary campaign and into the general election and could give a window into possible past and future messaging.

One of the sites the Romney campaign bought this spring is "o-the-amateur.com" a frequent theme Republicans use to suggest Obama does not have the expertise to manage the economy.

The Romney campaign has had success with sites such as fortyfore.com, a reference to Obama's penchant for golfing on off days.

Romney's campaign also used microsites to target both Gingrich and Perry during the Republican primaries.

WhatsNewthiding.com launched as a part of Romney's offensive against Gingrich, highlighting questions about the former speaker's contract with Freddie Mac. Romney's campaign also accused Perry of being a career politician and opened the website careerpolitician.com.

The Obama campaign, so far, has primarily launched websites that promote the president or defend attacks against him — such as on Attackwatch.com. However, the purchase of some domain names such as Mittbot.com, indicate the attacks could be on the horizon.

Other Romney purchases are clearly linked to news events.

After Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen's comments that Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life," the Romney campaign bought a slew of sites such as MomswithRomney.com and Mom-Ney.com, according to the Federal Election Commission and online searches.

IwilltransmityourflexibilitytoVladimer.com was created on April 1, days after President Obama was overheard asking Dimitri Medvedev, then Russia's president, for "space" on the missile defense system, adding that he would have more "flexibility" after the election. Medvedev replied, "I will transmit this information to Vladimir," a reference to Medvedev's successor, then-prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Peter Pasi, a Republican digital fundraiser, said campaigns should be careful how many of the sites they actually decide to use. "If they don't reinforce something that is already out there about a candidate, the use is limited," he said.

All told, the Romney campaign has spent more than $32,261 on domain-related purchases. The Obama campaign has spent $29,627 on "domain websites," according to campaign-finance reports.

Rodell Mollineau, president of President of American Bridge 21st Century, a pro-Obama super PAC, said the sites are also useful as clearinghouses for opposition research and can be updated as necessary.

Michael Cyger, of DomainSherpa.com, said purchasing a domain name and creating a website is a cheap and easy way for a campaign to get a message out and tailored to their point of view, particularly if it is a negative site.

Cyger noted that one of the biggest mistakes made by candidates is failing to purchase their domain names — an "$8.30 insurance policy" against any future opponents or domain squatters who might benefit from owning it.

Josh Bourne, president of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, added that the fact that the Romney campaign appears not to own any of the combinations of his name and potential vice presidential contenders could be a problem soon.

"There's a 'snooze, you lose' aspect," he said. "When they announce that running mate, unfortunately it tends to dawn on them then: … The good name is gone; now they have to use something that is less memorable."

Contributing: Gregory Korte

This story first appeared in USA Today.