'08 Web Gurus Chase Money, Support Online

Web-savvy campaign gurus aim for political movement and support online.

June 15, 2007 — -- The second-quarter dash for cash is nearing its home stretch.

With just two weeks left before the '08 presidential candidates must reveal their second-quarter fundraising totals, the campaigns are flooding inboxes asking supporters to show them the money.

"We need to raise $2.3 million online before June 30th," reads an e-mail former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards sent to supporters Thursday.

"Please help the eCampaign reach our fundraising goal of $3 million by June 30th," reads another e-mail sent by Christian Ferry, national e-campaign director for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Those totals, disclosed by the campaigns to the Federal Election Commission at the end of the month, are widely regarded as a measure of a candidate's political prowess.

Campaign 2.0: Money or Movement?

Begging for cash online is nothing new in election politics: McCain raised more than a million dollars during his White House bid in 2000, and Gov. Howard Dean's campaign blew that wide open in 2004, raising $59 million with 650,000 online supporters.

But in an election season poised to raise more money online than ever before, many '08 campaigns have hired Web-savvy Internet gurus -- some at six-figure salaries.

They've included sophisticated candidate Web sites in their campaign arsenals, and are reaching voters online, via text messages and on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.

The new crop of campaign Internet strategists -- Web-savvy, earnest and full of youthful exuberance -- argues that fundraising is only part of their strategy.

"I see this as a much bigger movement," said Josh Orton, 26, deputy director of new media for the Obama for America campaign in an interview with ABC News.

"We always think about what kind of offline results will come from our online efforts," he acknowledged. "But we're really candidly connecting people with the campaign in a meaningful way."

The Almighty Dollar

Still, veteran strategists still say: Show them the money.

Joe Trippi, the godfather of online politics, argues that while "building a movement" is important, money is still the mother's milk of politics.

"Don't let anybody tell you it's not about the money," Trippi said in a June panel discussion on the future of online communications in Washington, D.C.

"That's what it's all about," he said. Trippi recently signed on to the Edwards campaign.

Obama Leads in Online Donations

Trippi said the '08 candidates have recognized the power of the Internet in reaching a larger cross-section of people for smaller-sized donations, all with the click of a button.

During the first quarter, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., raised more money online than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican.

More than half of Obama's 100,000 campaign contributors in the first quarter came via the Internet. The Illinois senator raised a total of $6.9 million during the first quarter in online contributions.

Comparatively, the Clinton camp had 50,000 overall contributors and took in $4.2 million online; Edwards had near 40,000 total contributors and raised $3.3 million online.

Trippi said the new era of online politicking is transferring power from the Goliaths, empowering "an army of Davids."

Campaigns Efforting 'Two-Way Communication'

To reach the masses, campaigns are employing a robust Internet strategy that brings a grassroots twist to the online campaign community.

Orton describes the campaign's efforts at "two-way communication" with supporters through the MyBarackObama.com Web site.

"We're trying to lower the bar of access for people to come in and participate in the campaign," he said, noting Obama started out as a grassroots organizer in Chicago.

Supporters are encouraged to register for an account that charts their fundraising efforts, gives them tips on how to host campaign events and asks them for policy ideas.

'Telling People's Stories'

Recently a woman named "Amy" from Iowa e-mailed the campaign about her negative experiences with the health care system, Orton said.

Obama later talked about her story in a speech to explain his health care plan.

"Creating that loop and that relationship really solidifies their interaction with the campaign," said Orton. "It's about helping people organize, communicating and telling a story."

The campaign is also aggressively pursuing potential supporters on Facebook and MySpace.

They hired 23-year-old computer wiz Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, to figure out how to translate social networking support for Obama into money and votes.

"He understands really well how a lot of what's being built in some of these online social networks are actually true communities," said Orton. "It can't be seen as some sort of fad."

Political Effect of Using Social Networking Sites 'Untested'

Even though the candidates are putting considerable resources towards online endeavors, academics argue the jury is out on how effective the emphasis on social networking sites will be.

"They're almost all untested," said Julie Barko Germany of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.

"We don't know if using Facebook and MySpace and other forms of social networking is actually going to result in increased activism and an increased likelihood of voting," she said.

"It's also a myth that these new technologies for voter outreach are inexpensive," said Diana Owen, professor of communications technology at Georgetown University.

However, Germany argues that campaigns are tapping into well-documented research suggesting people are much more likely to support a particular candidate if they hear positive things about them from a friend.

Politics Online 'Good for Democracy'

Campaign Internet strategists say the political engagement in cyberspace is reshaping the landscape.

"It's good for our democracy," Peter Daou, Internet director for Clinton's campaign, told ABC News. "You use the tools as a means to engage with people and to connect with them, and have them connect with one another."

Daou, 41, argued his job is to engage and excite voters, and make sure they have information about the senator and her policies.

"When that happens, they'll tend to want to contribute," he said. "Whether that contribution is time or money."

Clinton Campaign Goes High-Tech

Daou points to the Clinton campaign's push to sign up supporters for text messages.

He also said about a million people have viewed two videos of Clinton the campaign posted to YouTube, asking voters to choose her campaign song.

"You want people to be able to take action in an easy way," said Daou, noting that Clinton loved the idea.

However, the point isn't to try to look cool or use the tools because everyone else is doing it, he said.

"It's more of how can we use this tool to connect with people and engage them and have them take action and really get to more about the senator and the campaign," said Daou.

Web Strategists Play Bigger Role in '08 Campaigns

Without turning their backs on the chicken dinner fundraisers and microtargeting the big-money donors, more and more of the '08 candidates are reaching out online.

For years, Republican campaign strategists have mastered the art of knowing their base, sending them letters or phone calls asking for supporter and money.

However, Mindy Finn, the 26-year-old director of eStrategy for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign, argues GOP candidates are slowly waking up to the power of the Internet.

It's not just a job for me," she said, "it's a livelihood of teaching Republicans and especially good candidates for change about the power of the Web and technology and how they can be a better leader because of the Web."

Finn, who worked on the Web operation of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign, said the Romney campaign has an integrated online strategy, and her growing team of four work with all the other departments.

GOP Candidates Dip Toe in Campaign 2.0

Finn said the campaign is also reaching out to voters through MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, but is keeping their eye on the bottom line.

"We do feel that it's important to connect with people in those mediums, but we make no mistake that we're not connecting to the majority of our voters," she said.

Still, while seniors -- a critical voting bloc for the GOP -- aren't using the Web to the extent the younger generation is, their presence online is growing, Finn said.

"One of the reasons I wanted to get involved early in the campaign is to put these strategies in place so people can see the results so they're not continuing to marginalize this area," said Finn, who moved from Washington, D.C., to Boston to be part of the campaign.

Finn said the Romney campaign got on the Campaign 2.0 train early, posting videos of the candidate on 'MittTV' -- a video feature on the campaign website.

Romney's sons anchored coverage of the GOP debates and the campaign posted that video, too. Romney was also the first candidate to appear on YouTube's 'YouChoose '08 Spotlight,' answering video questions from YouTubers.

From Fundraising to Building a 'Movement'

Clinton Internet director Peter Daou agrees campaigns have come a long way. When he did blog outreach on John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, he said the Web operation was literally in the basement.

"That was my first day on the campaign," he said. "I hit my head on the ceiling."

Whereas once mistakenly viewed as the "Web guys" and asked to deal with more mundane technical issues like fixing the printer, the strategists say now they're high-profile members of the strategy team.

"It's exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time to wake up every morning and try to harness that energy and that hunger for change into a movement," said Orton.

Whether it's motivated by a desire for money or a movement for political change, strategists say politicking online will only expand.

"The Web is not going away," said Finn. "It's only going to become a bigger part of the campaign as it becomes more an integral part of Americans' lives."

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