Paul Ryan's Congressional Opponent Is Forming an Internet Guerilla Campaign

Paul Ryan's challenger in Wisconsin is trying to win the Internet vote.

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Zerban supporters spell his name in lights on a bridge in Walworth County, Wisconsin.

Paul Ryan may be Mitt Romney's VP pick, but he is still running for re-election in Wisconsin's first congressional district.

And his opponent, Democrat Rob Zerban, wants to make sure the Internet doesn't forget it.

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Ryan has his own Ryan Gosling Hey Girl meme. Shirtless photos of the congressman are in high demand. Zerban, though, thinks he's got one thing Romney's right-hand man doesn't: the support of the online masses of Reddit and other social media.

Zerban, like several other politicians before him, first became popular on Reddit after he hosted a called "ask me anything," or AMA, about the anti-piracy bill known as SOPA. The session was so popular Redditors launched a campaign to demand that Ryan take a position on the bill.

Now that Ryan is on the national stage, Zerban, a former small business owner, is trying to harness the voice of the Internet once more. The Zerban staff describes their campaign to Whispers as "grassroots and netroots." Their candidate's efforts online increasingly look like a guerilla marketing campaign.

On Monday, for example, Zerban popped up suddenly on Reddit, writing: "My name is Rob Zerban. I am the... challenger to Rep. Paul Ryan."

Zerban wrote that while "for nearly 14 years Paul Ryan has gone unchecked," he believes that Ryan "will no longer be able to hide from his constituents - they will soon know exactly who Paul Ryan is."

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Like any online campaign, a candidate's authenticity is key. Some Redditors didn't like the seeming impersonality of Zerban's comments Monday, some of which were written by staff. One Redditor wrote: "Too bad this isn't an AMA but an awkwardly placed campaign ad."

But Zerban's staff soldiered on, and the candidate ended his post with the nerdy signoff "TL:DR," signififying he understood if his post was "too long: didn't read."

As the Obama campaign hits Ryan about his controversial budget, the Zerban campaign tells Whispers its singular focus online will be the same: a budget they don't believe America will want to see.

On the liberal website Daily Kos Sunday, Zerban attacked the budget as lowering taxes for the rich. On Twitter, he wrote that the "radical" budget would hurt the middle class. And on Facebook Monday, Zerban posted the video of Ryan being heckled at the Iowa State Fair over his budget.

"That was awesome," a Madison resident wrote in response to the video. "I don't think he was expecting that."

If Zerban's online efforts go according to plan, the Wisconsin Democrat has told media outlets: "it'll be fun to watch [Ryan] lose twice."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.