About a week before Missoula's citywide election, Ward 4's progressive city council candidate, Caitlin Copple, "liked" Adam Hertz's "Adam Hertz for Missoula City Council" Facebook page—and Missoula crossed the threshold of a new age in politics.
Copple's very public liking—she's got about 1,300 Facebook friends—seemed strange because Hertz had riled progressives while campaigning to unseat progressive incumbent Ward 2 councilwoman Pam Walzer. As Election Day crept closer, Hertz critics slammed him for his stance on issues ranging from homelessness to fiscal policy and growth. (One commenter on local liberal blog 4&20 blackbirds called him a "myopic little shit weasel.")
Copple, who unseated conservative incumbent Lyn Hellegaard in Tuesday's election, said we weren't alone in wondering why she'd extended what appeared to be an olive branch, if not an endorsement, to Hertz. She was simply being polite, she says. "I wish everybody the best...I'm supporting Pam."
On Wednesday, Hertz appeared to have beaten Walzer by three votes, out of just under 2,000 cast in Ward 4.
As younger candidates such as Copple, who is 28, and Hertz, 26, harness social media's power, Montana's Political Practices Commissioner, charged to police election campaigns, must grapple with ways to supervise the internet. "It's a whole new world," says Commissioner of Political Practices Program Supervisor Mary Baker. "We've got to play a little catch-up."
The commissioner's office is poised to release its findings on two Facebook-related complaints filed against Copple Oct. 12 by Hellegaard and another conservative city council incumbent, Renee Mitchell, who also lost her seat Tuesday. Hellegaard and Mitchell—neither of whom has a strong internet presence—allege that Copple incorrectly said on Facebook that pressure from Bitterroot Valley Pastor Harris Himes contributed to their "no" votes against Missoula's antidiscrimination ordinance last year. (Himes, who is homophobic, is now facing six felony charges based on allegations that he bilked a Bitterroot resident out of $150,000.)
One secret to Hertz's success may be that he paid Facebook to advertise when someone liked his campaign page. "It's very low-cost," he said last week. "In total, I've probably spent maybe $50...I thought it was actually kind of a steal." Copple's strategy may be more old-school. Even as the internet reshapes campaigning, she seems to keep her friends close and her enemies closer.