WASHINGTON -- It’s become a familiar story: Presidential candidate launches campaign. Press learns the campaign doesn’t own the Web address for its name. Whoever does own it posts something embarrassing. It happened to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Carly Fiorina.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky knew better. Paul, who has a political office in Austin, TX., in order to take advantage of that city's sophisticated tech sector, shelled out more than $100,000 to buy his own Web domain name. As reported by the National Journal, a Paul campaign disclosure showed a payment of $100,980 to Escrow.com for an expense described as “domain name.” The campaign took control of RandPaul.com at the same time the candidate launched his bid for the presidency.
The site RandPaul.com was previously a simple fan page. Legions of dedicated Paul supporters -- backing both the senator and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas -- run a number of websites promoting the two candidates. The site RonPaul.com was a fan page during the congressman’s 2012 presidential run and is still accessible now.
The price Rand Paul’s campaign paid for his Web domain name made Republican campaign strategists’ eyes bulge. It appeared steep for an Internet address. In contrast, most URLs can be bought for much less. For example, the nonexistent cheapdomaintest.com could be purchased for about $10 a year. At the other end of the spectrum, the site carinsurance.com sold for $49 million to a marketing firm in 2010.
Paul’s chief digital strategist has spoken publicly before about his preference for spending a sometimes-large sum of money to buy a candidate’s Web address from whomever might be holding it. “In my experience, it’s much better just to buy the domain names, even though you’re kind of giving these people a leg up,” Vincent Harris told Politico. “It’s a quicker, speedier process to get it all done.”
A strategist will seek out a name-derived Web address because most of the electorate assumes that is what will take an online user to the official site where they can donate money, get a yard sign or volunteer in support of a candidate. When supporters find another message, it can be both discouraging and distracting.
The tech-literate Paul team has avoided some of the woes experienced by its competitors. When Fiorina announced her candidacy this week, the owner of CarlyFiorina.org posted a message critical of layoffs made at the Hewlett-Packard Co. during her tenure as its CEO from 1999 to 2005. (Fiorina’s campaign owns CarlyFiorina.com.) And the owner of TedCruz.com put up a simple page reading, “Support President Obama. Immigration Reform Now!” -- a view contrary to the one Cruz himself holds.