The modern election-winning strategy has to have a heavy online element. Back in February, CBS News published an article estimating that digital spending for the US Presidential election would top $1 billion.
Facebook is due to get the majority of that digital spending revenue, but at the heart of most of this digital political spending is a domain name. A destination where avid supporters and undecided voters are prompted to go to either find out more about a candidate or pledge their support.
In this two-part series just before one of the most important US elections in history, I am going to be looking at how domain names are shaping the online campaign strategy for both Democrats and Republicans. I’m starting with the Democrats.
In April 2019, Joe Biden announced that he would be running in the 2020 Presidential election. Immediately, JoeBiden.com became the digital heart for Joe’s campaign – the destination that he could send his supporters to in order to donate, buy merchandise, or become a Biden activist.
Biden almost lost this name back in 2013 when the name expired. Fortunately, it was renewed and the name continued to be registered to a Biden staffer up until 2017 when the name moved to Google’s registrar under privacy protection.
Along with JoeBiden.com, Biden’s campaign owns names such as JoeBiden.io, JoeBiden.me, and JoeBiden.es. Logically, JoeBiden.es is forwarding to Biden’s Spanish-language website, although JoeBiden.es doesn’t look like it’s widely utilized by Biden.
The Biden campaign also employs Joe.link as a URL shortener. Surprisingly, they didn’t also acquire Biden.link, which is now up for sale for $999.
In August 2020, Biden announced that his running mate would be Kamala Harris. The Californian Senator wisely owns KamalaHarris.com
However, this name played second fiddle to KamalaHarris.org during Harris’ Democratic Presidential nominee campaign which ended fairly early.
Also in August 2020, these domains started forwarding to JoeBiden.com.
Biden for President missed out on one key domain name prior to this announcement: BidenHarris.com. That’s a pretty big miss even from a brand protection perspective since “Biden Harris” appears front and center on JoeBiden.com, and it’s branded everywhere at Biden rallies, as this CSPAN video screenshot shows:
In some ways, it could be considered fortunate for Biden and Harris that the name is under private ownership and is promoting a political website.
I say that because it could be worse. Donald Trump’s campaign could own it. In 2016, his campaign paid a reported $15,000 to acquire ClintonKaine.com and promptly created an attack ad on the domain – which Trump shared on social media. The site proudly wore the phrase “Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.”
Some domain names have helped Joe Biden to create viral moments. The first of which is KeepAmericaGreat.com.
The “Keep America Great” slogan was supposed to be the follow up to Trump’s 2016 phrase of choice, “Make America Great Again” – a slogan that encaptured a movement and also resulted in the red MAGA hats.
You’ll notice that Trump has largely dropped the “Keep America Great” mantra, reverting back to “Make America Great Again” in recent times:
Georgia, this is your chance to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. We have been strong for our Military, Vets, 2nd Amendment, and ALL. VOTE NOW!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2020
This may have something to do with the 210,000+ COVID-19 deaths in America and a struggling economy. The fact that Joe Biden acquired KeepAmericaGreat.com may have a minuscule role to play, too.
In August 2020, the Biden campaign acquired KeepAmericaGreat.com and quickly created a page rebuking many of Trump’s perceived failings while in office. This created a storm of activity around the KeepAmericaGreat.com domain, with most mainstream outlets covering the acquisition.
It was a perfect example of political trolling in the 21st century and shows that domain names certainly do play a part in political games and strategy in a modern election campaign.
A domain name was at the center of another viral moment recently, this time Biden’s camp used the appearance of a fly in the Vice Presidential debate to their advantage.
The fly, which gave an unfortunate talking point to the debate, gave the Biden campaign the perfect social media moment. Biden’s team reportedly quickly registered the domain FlyWillVote.com and posted the name to Joe Biden’s Twitter account.
Just like that, Twitter was talking about FlyWillVote.com rather than the Vice Presidential debate itself. The Tweet amassed over 100,000 retweets and over 450,000 likes.
The domain FlyWillVote.com takes visitors to IWillVote.com, a Democratic National Committee website helping supporters to vote.
Two of Biden’s most prominent viral moments both had domain names at their cores.
Other Domains In-Play
The Biden campaign has a pretty solid domain name strategy, and it’s been established that they’ve used domains to create campaign moments online. Biden took advantage of another Trump phrase in 2019.
The domain VamosToVictory.com was acquired by the Biden campaign, according to a spokesman, after Trump’s campaign failed to register the name.
The phrase “Vamos To Victory” was coined in a 2019 Trump tour of Texas dubbed the “Vamos to Victory Tour”.
VamosToVictory.com, and the equivalent Twitter account, were both registered and put into action, with VamosToVictory.com scoring some headlines and being forwarded to TrumpWinsWeLose.com.
What Biden Has Been Promoting
Aside from ads and social media posts directing visitors to JoeBiden.com, Biden has heavily promoted the Democrat-owned domain IWillVote.com.
Originally acquired by the Democratic National Committee in 2013 for an undisclosed fee, this simple phrase has turned into the calling card for the Democrats.
The IWillVote.com domain appeared on Joe Biden’s Twitter page 31 times in tweets and retweets between October 19th and 26th. That’s far more than all other mentioned domain names combined.
Biden has also started to promote another three-word .COM domain, MakeAPlan.com. This has been a very recent marketing play by the Democrats since the domain was only acquired from GoDaddy’s NameFind portfolio in mid-October 2020.
It has nonetheless become a popular phrase for the Democrats in the last weeks of the election, with Barack Obama featuring in a Biden campaign video prompting supporters to make a plan to vote early, using the newly-acquired MakeAPlan.com:
Be like @BarackObama.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 25, 2020
The Public Have Their Fun
What is stopping anyone from registering a domain either supporting or protesting against a political candidate, and forwarding it to their website? That’s what many members of the general public have been doing. Some domain names can express opinions perfectly.
According to data from Host.io, there are 755 domain names that forward to JoeBiden.com. Some of those are names you’d expect, such as KamalaHarris.com, Joe.link, and JoeBiden.io, but there are plenty of others.
Anti-Trump domains forwarding to JoeBiden.com include JustBeatTrump.com and StopTrump.com. The more explicit FuckTrump.com did redirect to JoeBiden.com, but now that holds an anti-Trump landing page. There’s no indication that Joe Biden’s campaign owns any of these domain names.
Other notable domains forwarding to JoeBiden.com include ImpeachmentFacts.com, LatinosVote.com, and SmartPresident.com.
Some names forwarding to JoeBiden.com aren’t so complimentary to Joe. DementiaCandidate.com, RadicalLeftist.com, and GoingSenile.com all forward to Biden’s website. The Trump campaign has spent plenty of time and ad dollars trying to convince voters that Biden is in the grips of dementia. There is no evidence to suggest that Trump’s campaign owns any of these attack names.
One of the most damaging domains for Biden is Antifa.com. “Antifa” is an umbrella term describing groups and individuals of far-left or anarchist tendencies. The Trump campaign has been eager to target Antifa and link it and its ideologies to Joe Biden’s campaign.
So, it is damaging for Biden to have Antifa.com forwarding to his website. The domain is owned under WHOIS privacy protection, meaning there is no evidence that Biden or his campaign own this domain name.
It has been causing confusion, though, with many members of the general public assuming that Biden does indeed own this name. The Antifa.com-Biden link gained international headlines, with media outlets quickly trying to set the record straight: Biden does not own Antifa.com.
This culminated in a tweet from Biden’s digital director, Rob Flaherty, denouncing the domain name:
So whoever owns https://t.co/HgEpqQ9MqZ is redirecting it to our website as a troll. What we do know was that the website was registered with a Russian registrar for a while. Odd!
The VP very obviously has/wants nothing to do with fringe groups. Wish Trump could say the same.
— Rob Flaherty (@Rob_Flaherty) August 31, 2020
Overall, supportive or derogatory domain names forwarded to a candidate’s website have little influence in support – but they can cause confusion, as is well documented by the Antifa.com case.
Members of the public have also forwarded names to other Democrat-owned sites. Domains such as LiarParty.com, TotalNoobs.com, and CommieFreaks.com forward to Democrats.org, the online home of the Democratic Party.
Joe on COVID-19
Joe Biden has been vocal about the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen Trump himself labeled by some media outlets as a “superspreader” for a now-infamous White House event that resulted in dozens of positive COVID-19 diagnoses.
How has Biden voiced his opposition to Trump’s COVID-19 plan? Well, the Biden campaign has recently registered the domain TrumpCovidPlan.com and has created a website that again has made headlines.
The domain initially hosts a “Not Found” spoof page, which can be expanded to give more details from Biden’s perspective. Sensibly, Biden’s team also registered BidenCovidPlan.com, which redirects to a JoeBiden.com page.
It’s another example of how a domain name can play an effective role in creating headlines about a key policy during a Presidential election that will likely see more digital traffic and interactions than any before.