When you talk about Twitter, you might as well be talking about the Snuggie: People around you swear that it’s actually useful, but you can’t help thinking it silly and declaring, “I just don’t get what all the buzz is about.”
But in Washington, the social networking and microblogging service is quickly becoming part of the daily media diet — and a powerful tool in the hands of those who are adept at making their points in 140 characters or fewer.
Here are the new maestros of the tweet — Washington’s 10 Most Influential Twitterers.
1. Karl Rove: www.twitter.com/karlrove
The Architect opened a Twitter account in January and quickly amassed more than 11,000 followers. If you’ve ever wanted a peek inside Bush’s Brain, Rove provides one, with updates on the GOP’s future (“How do we hold back the tide? We must make a case that turns public opinion”) and humorous quips about his former colleague Dick Cheney (“I look forward to my next hunt with him”).
This more transparent, funny side of Rove has taken many Bush bashers by surprise, prompting Daily Beast contributor Rachel Sklar to ask: “Can one of the most divisive men in America actually change his image — 140 characters at a time?”
Commenters scoffed. But as the GOP settles into life as an opposition party, Rove’s quick and dirty dispatches could prove useful to Republicans looking for a way back.
2. Sen. Claire McCaskill: www.twitter.com/clairemcc
Although more than 60 members of Congress tweet, no one else does so with the regularity and honesty of this Missouri Democrat.
She’ll open up about her political views (“I’m mad about these yahoos on Wall Street taking bonuses and trying to buy fancy jets on the taypayers dime”) and her personal life (“Brought work home. My sister is here who is a huge dog person. That means one thing tonight. Westminister Dog Show on TV”).
McCaskill’s embrace of Twitter has worked: With more than 5,700 followers, she is one of the most popular Twitterers on Capitol Hill.
3. David Gregory: www.twitter.com/davidgregory
If his dancing was any hint, this “Meet the Press” host didn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s hip to what’s new and fashionable. But Gregory has not only joined Twitter, he’s embraced it, writing an average of 18 tweets per day.
Gregory provides photos of life behind the scenes at NBC’s Washington bureau — the green room, his office, the view from “Meet’s” legendary anchor chair — and he’s even attempted to Twit-erview subjects.
When Sen. Judd Gregg withdrew his nomination as commerce secretary, McCaskill tweeted, “Just heard news on Gregg. Old ways die hard around here. I know our President won’t give up on changing the unproductive partisan habits.” This prompted Gregory to tweet back, “Senator, do you think it was unrealistic to think Sen Gregg would be a good fit a Dem admin? Or was It Gregg who was unrealistic.”
Gregory has also used Twitter to ask followers to suggest questions for “Meet” and ideas for the “Today” show. And like most Twitterers, he’s not above talking about the minutiae of his family life: “My son called to say he’s having a margarita apres ski in Utah. He’s 6. It was on the kids menu. The restaurant is called Nacho Mamma.”
Gregory joined a week ago and is accumulating followers at the rate of nearly 5,000 a day.
4. Barack Obama: www.twitter.com/barackobama
Obama — or, more accurately, his staffers — stopped Twittering after Election Day. But with more than 280,000 followers, he remains the most popular Twitterer around, and that spigot could be a powerful communication tool should he choose to turn it back on.
Obama announced his VP pick via Twitter and text message, and nearly everything Obama-related on Twitter results in a huge following: The “Official Presidential Inaugural Committee Twitter” and an “ObamaNews” Twitter feed both boast more than 14,000 followers.
Just don’t expect cute anecdotes about Sasha and Malia from the Twitterer in chief: During the campaign, Obama’s Twitter style was wonky and bland (“Launching a tax calculator at http://Taxcut.BarackObama.com. See how much of a tax cut you’ll receive under my tax plan”).
5. Newt Gingrich: www.twitter.com/newtgingrich
As he cherishes his ongoing role as the GOP’s malcontent, the former speaker of the House has found a suitable outlet for his critiques on Twitter — and in little more than a week, more than 2,000 people have decided to follow him.
Gingrich is one of the GOP’s most Web-savvy elder spokesmen. But if he really wants to be the brains behind the party’s bounce back to power, he’ll need to spell out deeper ideas than this: “Great lunch at mcdonalds-quarter pounder with cheese-off to nordstroms-valentines day.”
6. Ana Marie Cox: www.twitter.com/anamariecox
The former Wonkette makes the cut for two reasons: productivity and popularity. At 54,000 followers and climbing, Cox’s tweets (sometimes as many as 100 a day) are among the most followed in Washington. With attitude and humor, Cox documents just about everything: White House briefings, her cats, her former employers, her ongoing debate about whether to wear pants around the house — and political sound bites on TV that could pass for bad pickup lines at a bar (“My filibuster lasts all night long”).
7. Sen. Chuck Grassley: www.twitter.com/chuckgrassley
Whereas McCaskill’s tweets are personal in a spunky sort of way, Grassley’s are personal in an Iowan way: friendly but dry.
This 75-year-old sometime farmhand Republican has developed quite a following (2,000-plus) with his plain-spoken, Midwest Twittering style: “On way bk to frigid waterloo. Will my car start at airport.” “I didn’t stay up to see Ball drop. I will watch Hawkeyw ftball. Otherwise read. Not a very exciting new year celebration but tradition forme.” “6 inches snow in New hartford last night. I missed it bc of senate session. Lucky we finished corn harvest last wkend.”
Salon’s Mike Madden, a regular reader and big fan of Grassley’s tweets, says the senator “sounds just like the elderly pig farmer he is.”
8. Joe Trippi: www.twitter.com/joetrippi
If Newt Gingrich is using Twitter to help steer the Republican Party back to its conservative principles, Joe Trippi, a former adviser to Howard Dean and John Edwards, is busy focusing liberals’ eyes on the prize (“Our founders loved capitalism but they believed to their core that capitalism had to serve the democracy and not the other way around”). Unlike many other Twitter users, Trippi spends the bulk of his time fostering a dialogue by responding to the comments and questions of others.
9. Patrick Ruffini: www.twitter.com/patrickruffini
Not yet a household name, Ruffini boasts an impressive résumé: webmaster for the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign and e-campaign adviser to Rudy Giuliani in 2008. He’s part of a new generation of Republicans hoping to use technology as a way to steer the party away from its more rusty roots.
Ruffini’s tweets are sharp, blunt and aggressive when it comes to the Democrats’ flaws and the Republicans’ promise.
Ruffini’s 4,200 followers digest such nuggets as “The rise of the right online is / should be about connecting people NOT computers. It’s about building a grassroots movement not technology” and “Ultimately, I think the whole debate over the NYT is silly. Op-ed pages are meaningless in the 21st century. We need to focus on raw info.”
10. Al Gore: www.twitter.com/algore
Gore’s Twitter feed is much like Gore himself: lurking in the shadows and ready to pounce when the moment’s right. The former VP doesn’t Twitter all that often — just 12 tweets since he opened his account in November — but there are 118,000 followers ready to listen whenever he’s ready. That’s as close as anyone in Washington comes to an Obama-like number.
As expected, Gore focuses on the environment (“I’m advocating a US goal of 100% carbon-free electricity in 10 years”) but makes sure to direct followers to www.algore.com, where they can provide their e-mail addresses and “join the conversation.”
Think we missed someone? Disagree with our choices? Drop Patrick Gavin a note at pgavin@POLITICO.com. Gavin tweets at www.twitter.com/pwgavin, and POLITICO’s feeds can be found at www.twitter.com/thePOLITICO and www.twitter.com/POLITICO44.