It's easy to picture political operatives holed up in airless war rooms, working the phones leading up to this week's leader debates. The setting was altogether different for Karen Green, one of a core group of Canadian mom bloggers who are trying to galvanize their ranks, using the new Twitter hashtag #momthevote to organize discussions around election issues online.
Before she could settle in and live-tweet the English debate, Ms. Green, who blogs at The Kids Are Alright had to hit her Toronto neighbourhood park with her kids after work. "I ran them like dogs to tire them out so that they'd go to sleep early," she says, acknowledging she was about 20 minutes late.
Mom bloggers are considered one of the most powerful blocs in North America, who when mobilized can fuel ferocious viral consumer campaigns around diapers, pain killers and other products.
For instance, last month, mom bloggers across North America mounted a campaign against the Abercrombie Kids "push-up" bikini being marketed to tweens in its online catalogue. In that case, the company quickly removed the wording, if not the bikini, after the online outcry.
But in Canada, during an election where every major leader has put forth a plank to woo the family vote, they are only just now flexing their muscle. Ms. Green's first use of the slogan, on April 6, was: "Do you know who you're voting for? Do you know each of the parties' stand on family issues? We need to #momthevote."
Since then, bloggers have been encouraged to display a Mom The Vote button on their sites and use the hashtag while tweeting about election issues. The phrase actually dates back to 2007, when the now-defunct Cookie magazine started a similar campaign.
"In our youth we were encouraged to Rock the Vote," Ms. Green says. "We've already done that, now it's time to Mom the Vote."
Or, as Ms. Green's fellow mom blogger Emma Waverman of MSN's Embrace The Chaos puts it, "It seemed like there was a hole in the conversation. The conversation should be about more than diapers and I-Need-My-Coffee."
But so far, rather than health-care policy, childcare or education, the first issues flagged is greater access to midwifery care.
Although started as a non-partisan effort, the tag is starting to gain traction with the left. Anti-Tory sentiment has seeped into tweets.
Thus far, there hasn't been a similar effort on the right of the spectrum, although there are family-values female bloggers, such as Chasing Apple Pie (from Alberta) written by "frmgrl." A recent post about the long-gun registry states "So the choice is definitely clear. If you want the long gun registry scrapped, you know how to vote."
Midweek, social media observers pegged the hashtag's reach at about 430,000 impressions. There is now a Facebook page and a branded button starting to appear on participating blogs.
Although about 4.5 million Canadians are on Twitter, Toronto social media strategist Brett Bell says that only about 17,000 tweets are going out daily about the election.
"It's a bit of an echo chamber," says Mr. Bell, the principle of Grassroots Online. A recent poll found that only 6 per cent of Canadians engage in politics online daily.
Still, he says, there's no question that all the parties are angling for the "mommy vote," so the power of #momthevote may be amplified.
Mr. Bell says there's ample evidence that all the parties are watching this demographic.
"What they're going to be figuring out is the math: Who's behind the blogs, what kind of readership, reach, and clout they have as a group."
Late last week, the Liberal Party clamoured for an Ottawa sit-down meeting with #momthevote users, but the response was so great that the party has now organized an online event Saturday around family issues.
University of Victoria politics professor Janni Aragon says she's been following the hashtag's progress and thus far, its get-out-the-vote focus is admirable, even if its reach may be small.
"Does this mean one more percentage point in the election? It could," she says.
According to a recent study from Cornell and Carnegie Mellon Universities, popular political hashtags were found to be used by significantly smaller groups of Twitter users than those joining trendy pop culture conversations, says Toronto digital communications expert Meghan Warby.
While they are less popular, and take longer to spread among online users, politically-engaged Twitter users are far more prolific in their online publishing. These hard-core enthusiasts have created and maintained legacy hashtags in America such as #obama, #glennbeck and the conservative tag #TCOT (Top Conservatives on Twitter), she notes.
Ms. Green says it's worth a try and she's willing to stay glued to her computer more than she already does for the next two weeks. She uses familiar mom blogger humour to hint at how she'll do it.
"At least my kids are old enough they can pour their own milk."