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Campaign silent, campaign deep

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Saturday, March 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

On the night of the 2012 presidential election, a defeated Mitt Romney was “shellshocked” upon realizing that the “unskewed” polls he had been reading were way off the mark. Believing until the last dog died that he was the next president, Romney had felt until election night that the momentum was with him.

The Boston Globe reported that Romney canceled the eight-minute celebratory fireworks display that had been planned for Boston Harbor. He discarded the only speech he had written for the evening, a victory speech, and quickly crafted a gracious farewell. Somehow, he had gotten it very wrong.

Romney's rosy outlook was not far-fetched if it was based just on the traditional campaign, the above-ground slugfest of television ads, personal appearances, cheering crowds and public debates. But all along, Romney missed that other campaign, just below the surface, modern and stealthy, the future of politics.

And the race for mayor of Pittsburgh is no different, two campaigns really, the one you see and the one you don't. All the traditional markers of past campaigns are still there and those battles are being hard fought, with no serious candidate willing to concede any ground.

Endorsements of political and neighborhood groups still mean something, especially in municipal races. Endorsements of public employee unions are greatly valued as harbingers of victory in mayoral races since most workers want to stay on the right side of the likely boss.

Geography, gender and ethnicity still hold sway, each worth some votes. Pundits and political operatives relish these endless combinations. And when blended with census data and voters lists, they once were a fairly scientific campaign tool.

But more and more political campaigns, including local races, will be decided by those things that Mitt Romney did not see as he approached what he thought would be the greatest night of his political life. While old-style politicos remain important, ephemeral campaign operatives, armed with iPads and laptop computers, have stepped up the game.

They form political alliances without ever laying eyes on each other, never meeting in person, never attending an above-ground political rally or campaign meeting. Just as they flourish socially, their political activity takes place in a cyber-campaign, where it is impossible to assess their participation or enthusiasm.

Pollsters, the navigators of campaigns, miss them entirely because cellphones put them out of reach and none of them have landlines. In a business in which counting correctly is the only thing that counts, these new political activists make the pollsters miscount.

This juggernaut finally surfaces on Election Day and that is far too late to counter it, as Mitt Romney discovered. It is composed of poll workers, voter turnout specialists, van drivers, leafleteers and voters.

So, turn to the Internet to get a feel for this mayor's race. Check out the Facebook posts, the tweets and the campaign web pages for each candidate. You just might find the winner.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (

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