What's not on Twitter? The NJ gov race

New Jersey Chris Christie shares a laugh with his constituents during his 100th Town Hall meeting in Manahawkin NJ. Gov. Christie holds his 100th town meeting, in Manahawkin at the Gymnasium at St. Mary of the Pines Parish Center 100 Bishop Way Manahawkin, Stafford Township, NJ JCHRISTIE17 01/16/2013 ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )

Excerpts from speeches and press releases. Occasional retweets. And no fireworks.

That's the state of the governor's race on Twitter. In Sunday's paper, I looked at Gov. Christie's twitter identity and found: A) He sends personalized tweets far less than he once did, and B) His office refuses to say who tweets for him (someone MUST, because many tweets are posted while he is speaking in real life). 

Christie upped his Twitter game today. He tweeted Chelsea Clinton and retweeted a message about his appearance on David Letterman tonight. So let's move on to his gubernatorial opponent, Barbara Buono, whose Twitter feed is void of personal tweets and is mostly a regurgitation of speeches and press releases.

And that's disappointing. An authentic exchange of ideas with voters -- and even between the candidates themselves -- would expose their messages and personalities to those who might not otherwise get to hear them unfiltered (like those voters who are younger than the 50-something candidates). Twitter offers the possibility for authenticity and rapid, crowd-sourced fact-checking that a TV ad just doesn't allow for.

For Buono, who is short on cash and name recognition, Twitter is a free way to offer herself to a broader public. As for Christie, Twitter allows him to be more Christie.

Here's my story in Sunday's paper:

TRENTON - Back in the day, before the Republican convention keynote address and the nationally televised Sandy news conferences and the Saturday Night Live skit - before Chris Christie was called the Most Popular Governor in America - the New Jersey governor was just another Twitterer.

He fought with people on Twitter, sometimes after midnight, and sometimes after midnight on the weekends. He checked in from his nights out ("Great show by Beyonce. Great energy, great dancing & she was in great voice.") He displayed Jersey pride ("Go Lancers!" he wrote of the team at his alma mater, Livingston High). And he mixed Jersey pride with sports ("The only thing New York about the Giants is the NY on the helmet. . .").

But something happened last fall, around the time of the presidential vote and the Sandy storm: Christie disappeared from Twitter.

Sure, he's been busy. And yes, he is still technically on Twitter - because these days, every politician has to tweet. Gov. Corbett tweets. The president tweets (and signs bo when the words are his own). It's the fastest and cheapest way to reach media and constituents.

But Christie's real interactions on Twitter are now far fewer, which is surprising for a guy who laments the lack of real-person interaction that the governorship affords him. It is doubly surprising because he is heralded as a master of social media: He rode YouTube to national fame, and on Feb. 13 Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is holding his first-ever political fund-raiser, for Christie.

And yet Christie's Twitter feed has largely become a regurgitation of speeches, news conferences, and press releases. The tweets often come out while he's speaking, indicating someone is tweeting for him - though his communications team won't say who presses the buttons.

So the governor's true Twitter identity is a state secret.

This may be irrelevant in the larger scheme of governance, but it's an intriguing question in the rapidly changing world of political communication. Politicians' Twitter identities are shrouded in mystery. A senator's Twitter may write "I," but is the senator really writing? Who can be sure?

When an unnamed Christie staffer dutifully typed his statements on Sandy as he made them during a news conference, the Washington Post declared: "Chris Christie gets emotional on Twitter." As his news conference about the GOP's delay in providing Sandy aid was tweeted live, a Daily Kos headline said: "Gov. Christie erupts on Twitter."

Except Christie erupted and got emotional in real time, not on Twitter. This is the false narrative fueled by ghost tweeting.

Some politicians tweet for themselves. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a probable 2014 Senate candidate, has 1.3 million followers and might be the most prolific Twitterer in political America. He has broken new ground, using Twitter to learn of emergencies, respond to them, and then let the world know he responded to them. (Most recently, he saved a freezing dog, for example.)

But it's not all fun heroism. Last weekend, Booker tweet-attacked a Star-Ledger of Newark reporter who'd written about his stance on guns: "I'm so angry about article. Reporter didn't talk 2 me & mischaracterized my views." The reporter - aware that he had been maligned to 1.3 million Booker followers - responded, asking for specific inaccuracies (none were provided) and wrote: "Please stop the b.s. b/c you cant take criticism . . ."

By not tweeting, Christie is essentially (though maybe not intentionally) avoiding such distractions. He's playing it safe. And that's disappointing, because his real persona was revealed in responses to reporters and constituents with tweet-barbs like "learn the facts" and "total bologna."

Now, his correspondence is mostly limited to famous New Jerseyans, such as when he plugged a self-promotional video and tweeted it to New Jersey natives Jason Alexander and Jon Bon Jovi.

Back in 2011, Christie was more down-to-earth. He even replied to Democratic State Sen. Barbara Buono, who tweeted him well wishes during a brief hospitalization that landed on her birthday: "Thx 4 your kind thoughts . . . and BTW, Happy Birthday!"

Buono is now running against Christie for governor. If they fight on Twitter, which is inevitable, here's hoping it's the candidates firing away - and not their hired Twitter guns.