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On Twitter, campaigns dog each other with insults

(Reuters) – It’s either an amusing way to follow the 2012 presidential campaign, or the death rattle

for meaningful political discourse in America.

U.S. President Barack Obama reacts after tweeting at 

his first ever Twitter Town Hall in the East Room at the White House in Washington, July 6, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing

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 six-plus months.

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.


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


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 10.


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 timely.

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 it fun.

“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


“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 mainstream.”

So will any of this chatter actually influence voters’ decisions in November?


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


(Editing by David Lindsey and Eric Beech)

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On Twitter, campaigns dog each other with insults