UO alums form conservative political business, gain national media attention

UO alumni Bret Jacobson, 33, and Ian Spencer, 29, have formed an Arlington, Va., company called Red Edge, which offers digital services for politically conservative causes.

The two worked on the Commentator, the UO’s conservative alternative paper, where they learned about media messaging. Jacobson served as the Commentator's publisher and ran unsuccessfully for ASUO president in 2001. Spencer was the paper's editor-in-chief in 2005.

Their company caught the attention of New York Times Magazine reporter Robert Draper, who wrote in a recent story that “…their days are typically spent designing software applications for groups like the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Governors Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

Jacobson and Spencer, according to Draper, are now trying to convince Republicans they must modernize their communications to catch up to their Democratic counterparts.

“1.25 million more young people supported Obama in 2012 over 2008,” Jacobson said in the Times Magazine story, and Obama was easily able to overshadow Republican Mitt Romney by using online fundraising.

Obama's campaign also used Reddit to force-feed images of the president hugging first lady Michelle Obama onto the screens of Twitter and Facebook users. But when Jacobson asked Republicans about using Reddit, most had never heard of it.

“Back in August 2011, Jacobson wrote an op-ed in Forbes alerting Republicans to Obama’s lead on the digital front," Draper wrote in the story about Red Edge. "His warnings were disregarded. Then last summer, he and Spencer approached the conservative super PAC American Crossroads with their digital-tool-building strategies and, they say, were politely ignored.”

Following Obama’s 2012 victory, Jacobson attended the RNC’s winter conference in Charlotte to discuss new digital techniques. Although his presentation was “well-received,” writes Draper, only 30 people attended the panel, and Jacobson returned to his office in Arlington somewhat dejected.

Meanwhile, however, more conservative groups are becoming aware of new media, and are reaching out to Red Edge to help them catch up to 21st Century technology.