AUGUSTA — Corey Wilson is sitting at a downtown bar, but he has his legislative campaign with him.
Wilson, a 27-year-old Republican running for a Maine House of Representatives seat, takes out his iPad and opens Mobile Voter, an app for Apple and Android devices that he’s been using to organize his campaign.
He scrolls a map over his Augusta district, which is mostly on the east side of the Kennebec River. Pins drop, representing voter residences — red pins for Republicans, purple for independents and green for Democrats. When you touch a pin, a name and an address pop up.
Hit it again and canvassers can input data. There are easy “yes” and “no” options for a number of questions, including whether the resident is a supporter or an opponent, has a yard sign or would like to vote by mail. Through a Web application, Wilson can download spreadsheets clearly outlining this information.
“Typically, you’d be walking around with this pile of paper, you’ve got it organized by street name, you get to the damn house and it’s like, ‘Oh, this is 3 Patterson (St.) and this is so-and-so,'” Wilson said. “Then you check them off or highlight them and you end up with a pile of papers everywhere. Then somebody’s got to go home and input that data.
“This application has allowed me to be so organized,” he said.
Wilson’s not at all alone. He’s passed the technology along to two other capital-area House candidates, both young Republicans running for state office for the first time, just like Wilson.
According to many, 2012 is shaping up to be a watershed year for mobile strategy in campaigns here and beyond. Nationally, this means the presidential campaigns are using geolocation, apps and other features on smartphones and tablets to send voters customized messages.
Mobile apps are also catching on with Maine’s politicos, from operatives to experts to candidates. They’re used for organization, efficiency, education, simple convenience and yes, leisure.
Big help on the stump
For the Maine Democratic and Republican parties, app use is all about functionality on the stump. As Wilson said, speed of data entry is key when trying to reach the maximum number of potential voters.
For the election cycle, the Maine Democratic Party bought about 10 refurbished iPod Touches for canvassers going door to door, party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said. It’s the cheapest way for them to access MiniVAN Touch, an app that integrates with NGP VAN, a company that maintains voter information and provides it to Democratic and progressive campaigns. She said 2012 is the first year in which the Maine party has used the app.
“When we’re doing door-to-door, we can hook it up and addresses come right up,” said Reinholt, the Democrats’ spokeswoman. “Every time we used to do door-knocking, we’d have all this data entry we had to do. Now we can do it on the spot.”
Republicans have an answer to that system: an app made by the company that maintains their voter database.
Maine GOP spokesman David Sorensen said that on the trail, the party uses Geo Connect, which is made by FLS Connect, a company specializing in data management for conservative political and business clients.
This is also the first election cycle in which they’re using apps, which he said volunteers usually download onto their personal smartphones. The Maine GOP also uses another FLS product, GOP Data Center, which allows operatives to search easily for voter information within the region they’re interested in.
Sorensen said Republicans — in Maine and nationally — are seeing massive gains so far in 2012 because of these new tools and strategies. He chalks it up not only to productivity, but also to volunteer retention.
“I know, as a volunteer in 2010, how much I dreaded having to use the paper, which you had to shuffle around and work out. Sometimes you couldn’t read people’s writing,” Sorensen said. “So it’s not only making our volunteers more efficient, but it gives them further incentive to help out.”
Wonks have less flash
Those following, analyzing and interpreting events in Maine politics don’t have as much flash in their iPhone apps.
Peter Steele, spokesman for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group, said center staffers use social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, a professional networking site. They also use Contact, an app for smartphones that allows them to send mass emails and news releases.
“Basically, these apps allow us to get the word out to our supporters instantaneously, to keep informed of daily developments in the policy world and to get feedback about the job we are doing, all with just a few taps on the phone,” Steele said in a statement.
Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine in Orono, has an iPad loaded with apps, including basics such as the Constitution, the Electoral College and news organizations.
Fried, a polling expert, said in an email that she keeps track of national polling data with PollTracker, an app from Talking Points Memo, a website known for aggregating polls. She said she also encourages students in her class on public opinion to get it as well.
Gerald Weinand, editor of liberal Maine political blog Dirigo Blue, has an Android smartphone with apps for his site, Twitter, Facebook and recording audio, and to keep track of his fantasy football team.
“I’m 50,” he said. “I’m not much of a gadget guy. I’m not like the younger generation of people.”
Mark Sullivan, communications director for the left-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy, an economic think tank, said there isn’t much official app use at the center, but many use Google Reader to aggregate news and other media.
For him, however, there’s a learning curve. He recently got a new smartphone.
“It took me a while to learn how to get my email on it, much less anything else,” Sullivan said.
Apps track signs, conversation
Wilson, the Augusta House candidate, says Mobile Voter should cost him $300 by the end of the campaign. The app is free, but users must pay a monthly usage rate and 4.5 cents per voter for “geocoding,” making a voter file into a map.
Matt Pouliot, 25, a Republican running for the House on the west side of Augusta, said he got turned on to Mobile Voter by Wilson and bought an iPad mostly to use Mobile Voter.
He said other app functions, including keeping track of where yard signs are located and notes functions pegged to specific conversations with voters, are most helpful to him.
“If you go out and meet with people and they share ideas and thoughts with you, you can keep track of that stuff,” Pouliot said. “It’s one thing to listen to what somebody has to say, but if you don’t remember what they say or have a way to track what’s important to them, what’s the point?”
William Guerrette, 28, running for the House seat encompassing West Gardiner, Hallowell and Farmingdale, also learned of Mobile Voter from Wilson.
He’s most excited about using the app’s get-out-the-vote feature, which allows him to match up data showing how many times certain voters have voted in past years, with his supporters, to see who he should place more or less emphasis on.
“If I have someone pledge support to me but they’ve only voted in one of the last four elections, they may need a reminder more than a perennial voter,” Guerrette said. “It’s useful now, but I think its usefulness only multiplies as we get closer to the election.”
Kathie Summers-Grice, a spokeswoman for Kevin Raye, the Republican Maine Senate president from Perry trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, said the candidate uses his iPhone to access Twitter and Facebook, along with polling data and news from Washington, from Politico, The Hill and the National Journal.
“Every day, we employ numerous apps on the campaign trail, from keeping abreast of breaking news (through) local media apps, to tweeting about campaign stops, and even using our phones as hot spots so we can work in the car while traveling to and from events,” Raye said in a statement.
The Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News and major television stations have news apps for various mobile devices.
Independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King has an eclectic collection of iPhone apps, according to his campaign.
They include the Manual for the United States of America, an app King has touted on the campaign trail. (Though he has said it costs 99 cents, it looks to be $2.99 via Apple.) It allows quick access to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, a list of presidents and other foundational government information.
King’s app appetite doesn’t end with politics, however.
Campaign spokeswoman Crystal Canney and Charles Pierson, King’s social media director, said King also has Kayak, a travel-arrangement app, and an app containing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
There’s more: One of the most notable apps the campaign listed off was Zippo Lighter, which mimics the types of lighters held up at rock concerts. Why?
“His Facebook page lists a wide array of eclectic musical tastes,” Pierson said.
Michael Shepherd — 621-5632