Livingstone hopes to beat Boris with a little Barack Obama magic

London mayor hires the firm behind the US Democratic frontrunner's powerful web campaign
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Indy Politics

Ken Livingstone is hoping that the magic touch of Barack Obama will help him defeat Boris Johnson in the London mayoral contest. The Labour mayor has hired the internet firm behind the Democratic frontrunner's powerful web campaign as his latest weapon to fight off Mr Johnson's challenge.

Blue State Digital will run Mr Livingstone's internet strategy for the mayoral election and last night launched the first campaign video on YouTube. Thomas Gensemer, the US firm's managing director, said Barack Obama and Mr Livingstone shared a talent of being able to connect with "ordinary people" – in pointed contrast to Mr Johnson's Etonian background.

The first video clip features still images of the mayor, accompanied by voicemail messages from members of the public saying why they are backing Mr Livingstone – including one who says it is because he voted against the Iraq war.

The mayor is hoping the US firm will help him emulate the success of the Illinois Senator. Mr Johnson has enjoyed a lead of several points in the polls, but in the past few days there have been signs that Mr Livingstone is gaining ground.

The appointment of the online firm shows the growing influence of US campaigning methods in British politics. Last week it was reported that Gordon Brown wants to hire Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's campaign strategist, to carry out polling work for Downing Street.

Mr Gensemer said: "We're delighted to bring the experience gained with Senator Obama's campaign to London. Ken has that same trait of being able to connect so well with ordinary people and that means he can engage naturally with the online community." He added that he hoped they would be able to work on Labour's general election campaign in 2009 or 2010.

Mr Johnson has also embraced new technology in the shape of online video diaries and video blogs, as part of the mayoral race. The launch of his print manifesto was accompanied by a video that ran on the news and views site

Both teams, meanwhile, have denied being behind a YouTube clip of a man in a tweed cap, which appears to be a tribute to Mr Johnson but in fact features the lyrics: "You mumble when you debate / but its two thousand and eight / Who needs a competent candidate / It is never too soon / To elect a buffoon / Boris you make me swoon."

Blue State Digital will provide "technology and strategy advice" to Mr Livingstone's campaign team, including an e-campaign manager and support staff.

A spokesman for Mr Livingstone refused to comment on how much the American firm was being paid. "This election is neck and neck," he added, "and we want to engage voters across the board."