Having methodically risen through the ranks of state government all the way to his current position as the junior United States Senator from Idaho, Jim Risch (R) has one of the most extensive political resumes in the United States. Previous titles such as State Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Governor and Senator aren’t uncommon in Washington, but Senator Risch is truly unique among his peers in one way – he’s the only sitting United States Senator without either a Facebook OR Twitter presence.
Senator Risch's avoidance of these popular social media platforms is highly unusual in this day of real-time reactions and constant campaigning. Just one other current Senator is absent on Facebook, Thad Cochran (R-MS), and two others are nowhere to be found on Twitter: Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Jim Webb (D-VA), according to the latest data tracking by OhMyGov Media Monitoring. UPDATE: Senator Enzi (R-WY), who was absent on Twitter until yesterday when
this story was published, launched an account @senatorenzi and posted his first tweet in response to the
health care ruling by the Supreme Court.
While Sen. Risch does maintain an official Senate website and a YouTube account housing a few dozen videos, the fact that he has no official Twitter account, no official Facebook account, and a campaign "website" in name only put him at a disadvantage in publicizing his positions and rallying support.
In this modern age of social media and sophisticated tracking of online supporter activities, how did digital dodger Senator Risch buck the trend by rallying enough support to become Governor and Senator within the last ten years?
The answer? He really didn’t. Although Senator Risch served the people of Idaho for over thirty years, he was never elected to the governorship or even initially to the United States Senate, gaining his positions as a result of appointments following the resignation of his predecessors. Although Risch managed to keep his Senate seat after defeating Larry LaRocco (D) with 58% of the vote, the margin was comparatively weak given that John McCain received 61% of the vote that year and George W. Bush won the state with 68% and 67% of the vote in the prior two cycles.
Looking toward the his next campaign, Senator Risch may be vulnerable despite how deeply red Idaho has traditionally been, and his lack of a web presence may be a key impediment to any re-election effort. Polling data is still scarce at this point, but a January 2011 survey found Risch with an approval rating of only 39%, indicating a striking level of vulnerability for a politician with a high level of name recognition in a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat in a national election since 1964.
While it would be a stretch to say that all hope is lost as far as building a web presence, the gap between Senator Risch and the rest of the Senate is growing every day. Catching up with the Senate's leading social media presence, 2008 Republican Presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) would be borderline impossible, as McCain's current social media following of 2,615,115 fans is more than six times that of his nearest competitor. A more reasonable goal would be to catch up to the 2nd least social Senator, Thad Cochran, who currently has just 661 social media followers. Senator Risch would need to amass about 5,000 social media fans to escape the bottom 10% of legislators in the Senate.
The saying is that all politics is local, and that still rings true even in today’s hyper-connected digital world. While Senator Risch’s lack of an online presence doesn’t necessarily affect his ability to effectively serve in the United States Senate, it does impede his ability to connect with his constituents, and he just may pay the price for this the next time they go to the polls.
In the original version of this story, Senator Enzi was incorrectly identified as a Republican from New York. He represents Wyoming.