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Politicians as a species are verbally robust, but North Coast congressional candidates are flocking to Twitter, the social media site that limits tweets to 140 characters.

Tiffany Ren?, the Petaluma vice mayor, is the undisputed tweeting leader among the eight candidates actively seeking the seat Lynn Woolsey is vacating this year.

Ren? has posted more than 5,200 tweets since May, 2008. And she has more than 1,750 followers on Twitter, the San Francisco-based site launched in 2006 that now claims 100 million active users worldwide.

In second place among Democrats competing in the 2nd Congressional District is Marin activist Norman Solomon, with more than 1,050 tweets and 825 followers.

Establishing a Twitter account is free and easy, with unlimited tweeting capacity and freedom to "follow" or subscribe to the tweets of others.

No one else comes close, and Republican Dan Roberts of Marin County, who has a red, white and blue, stars and stripes backdrop on his Twitter home page, hasn't tweeted once.

Asked by phone if he could respond to a reporter's tweet for this story, Roberts said: "First I'd have to find it."

He's not alone in the Twitter wilderness.

"I didn't know I had a Twitter account," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who is running for re-election in an inland district that includes Santa Rosa.

A staffer said the account was created in case Thompson ever wanted to use it. The seven-term incumbent said he posts to Facebook once or twice a day. But his busy schedule precludes lengthy engagement with Twitter.

"It doesn't make any sense for me to do a lot of that," Thompson said by telephone. For the record, he has 163 followers.

Other candidates twittered — at a reporter's request — to describe how they use the medium in their campaigns. Some telephoned and were told to respond in 140-keystroke segments.

"Twitter is a great source of info sharing. I share articles of interest, my work as vice mayor, and notes from campaign trail," Ren? tweeted.

Solomon, who's been on Twitter for more than two years, was the most loquacious with five tweets, starting with: "Direct contact with voters. Real-time comments on breaking news. Quick updates to supporters from the campaign trail."

His third tweet: "Brevity has its virtues. Keeping fluff out of message is good discipline!"

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael: "I almost reluctantly started tweeting a few months ago, but use it a lot to share news and make big announcements. For example..(next tweet)..we tweeted our endorsements by Mike Thompson, League of Conservation Voters & North Bay Labor Council & got gr8 response."

Huffman, who started tweeting last August, has more than 310 tweets and more than 265 followers.

Stacey Lawson, a San Rafael entrepreneur and educator: "I tweet #news, things that #inspire our campaign and calls to action. Keeping the convo going where folks are already talking."

Lawson has more than 85 tweets, all but two since July, a month before she announced her candidacy, and more than 700 followers.

Susan Adams, a Marin supervisor, tweeted: "Twitter is a quick, easy and free way to communicate with the public. Appreciate that @watchsonoma uses our news feeds!"

Adams, who posted her first tweet June 29, has more than 130 tweets and more than 180 followers.

Candidate Andy Caffrey of Humboldt County has more than 930 tweets and 142 followers. Caffrey did not respond to a tweet and an email seeking his comment.

William Courtney of Mendocino County posted 21 tweets since the end of January and has one follower, identified as Hemang Monks.

The nation's First Tweeter, Barack Obama, has about 3,000 tweets and 12.7 million followers. Obama's homepage says his Twitter account "is run by #Obama2012 campaign staff."

For comparison, Lady Gaga is tops on some Twitter tallies with 19.6 million followers and Justin Bieber is second at 17.7million.

Twitter may not yet be a potent tool for local political campaigns, but it has potential, said Cynthia Boaz, a Sonoma State University political scientist.

Boaz, who has endorsed Lawson in the congressional race, considers herself a "prolific user" with more than 16,670 tweets and more than 5,500 followers.

Twitter proved its value on a global scale in helping rebels orchestrate last year's Arab Spring uprisings, Boaz said.

A Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey in January found that only 5 percent of Americans get campaign information from Twitter.

But Boaz believes that local politicos can capitalize on it, too, if they do more than issue a stream of announcements. "You put out a message and then you engage in conversation with people who respond to you," she said. "There has to be a back and forth."

Boaz, who tweets as many as 100 times a day, said Twitter has some advantages over a campaign mailer that costs thousands of dollars to cover a congressional district.

Twitter reaches the world. And, she said: "It's free."

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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