| WASHINGTON, April 18
WASHINGTON, April 18 It's either an amusing way
to follow the 2012 presidential campaign, or the death rattle
for meaningful political discourse in America.
Either way, top campaign aides to Democratic President
Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have taken to
Twitter with relish, in daily verbal battles that underscore how
negative - and silly - the campaign could be during the next
The battles on the social media website, generally sparked
by a "tweet" from either Obama adviser David Axelrod or Romney
adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, create what amount to several news
cycles in a single day, with waves of messages - each of them
less than 140 characters.
The campaigns' latest dive into pettiness came late Tuesday,
as Fehrnstrom and Axelrod jousted over the issue of ... dogs.
Fehrnstrom clearly had been waiting for a chance to return
zingers from Axelrod over Romney's much-publicized family trip
to Canada in 1983, when Romney transported the family dog,
Seamus, in a crate that was strapped to the top of the Romneys'
The episode, during which the dog lost control of his
bowels, has been lampooned by Democrats who have portrayed
Romney as an uncaring former corporate executive.
Axelrod mocked Romney's campaign by tweeting a photo of
Obama in the presidential limousine with his dog, Bo.
"How loving owners transport their dogs," Axelrod wrote.
Fehrnstrom struck back late Tuesday after The Daily Caller,
a conservative news website, reminded its audience that in his
book "Dreams from My Father," Obama had described being fed dog
meat when he was living in Indonesia between the ages of 6 and
As The Daily Caller's post was making the rounds on Twitter,
Fehrnstrom re-tweeted Axelrod's photo of Obama and Bo but added
a new caption: "In hindsight, a chilling photo."
Meanwhile, waves of dog jokes (and fake dog meat recipes)
lit up Twitter, in messages that were as crude as they were
As trivial as it all might seem at a time when the United
States faces continuing economic uncertainty at home and a war
in Afghanistan, the campaign advisers also are quick to wrangle
over budgets, taxes and other issues more likely to show up in
an exit poll than dogs.
Axelrod and Fehrnstrom told Reuters on Wednesday that
Twitter can quickly communicate a campaign's message - and keep
"Can it be silly and cheap at times? Absolutely," Axelrod
said. "Can it also be a useful tool? Yes. I think it is both a
way to quickly communicate to the media, and a way to share
information and ideas more broadly."
Fehrnstrom said the new medium is a valuable tool.
"Twitter is another channel of communication," Fehrnstrom
said. "It wasn't around for the last election but it is now, and
we intend to open and make use of all the different channels. A
lot of reporters use it, it's popular with people age 30 or
above, not so much with the younger crowd, but it's a place
where stories can incubate before breaking out into the
So will any of this chatter actually influence voters'
decisions in November?
Probably not, said Larry Berman, a political analyst and
dean of the Honors College at Georgia State University.
"I pay no attention," Berman said. I "suspect this
fascinates inside-Beltway folks, (but) it will have little
impact or significance."
(Editing by David Lindsey and Eric Beech)