The Web 2.008 Campaign

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 08-06-2007
Election 2008: The Internet Campaign
Blog: Putting the Edwards' Quote In Context

Web video and social networks are two of the hottest technologies for Campaign '08. Video is ready for prime time, social networking is a relative unknown.

Video arrived in 2006, when George Allen, then a Republican Virginia senator, called a rival staffer the crypto-racist slur "macaca." The clip of the incident helped tip the Senate to the Democrats.

The Web can be liberating. "It's about bypassing the sieve of the mainstream media," says Elizabeth Edwards, wife and confidant of Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards. "The idea that you have people standing between you and the voter is diminished, and the capacity to speak directly empowers candidates to trust their own voices." With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama hogging media coverage, campaigns can push their messages without paying for ads.

"In some ways, it's the way we have to go," Edwards says. "We can't make John black, we can't make him a woman. Those things get you a lot of press, worth a certain amount of fundraising dollars. Now it's nice to get on the news, but not the be all and end all." Read about the controversary surrounding this quote.

Candidate Edwards, dogged by stories about his expensive haircuts and a YouTube video showing him primping before the camera, released a video set to the song "Hair," with images of Iraq and New Orleans and a tagline, "What Really Matters?" Clinton warmed her image earlier this summer by starring in a Sopranos spoof.

Social networks made their mark during the 2004 presidential race when Meetup.com helped organize thousands of people in physical space. MySpace, Facebook and others improve on that with communication and networking tools, and people are signing up for campaigns by the tens of thousands. But to what end?

"The thinking across the board is uninspiring and lacking in strategic focus," says Fred Stutzman, a University of North Carolina PhD candidate who studies social networks. "The outcomes haven't been clearly defined. If it's raising money, perhaps it's not the right medium. If it's microinfluence, one person influencing two people, there are some interesting opportunities."

Earlier this year, the Obama campaign took over a MySpace domain created by a volunteer, then balked at the price he asked for his work. That generated bad buzz, and temporarily reduced the campaign's contact list. But GOP Internet strategist Michael Turk thinks the campaign misunderstood the deal. "The price wasn't bad when you can message people and set up contribution buttons," he says. "A misconception among people who don't spend all day thinking about the Internet is how much it costs to do things online."

One technology notable for its absence: mobile devices. "It should be maybe the most important technology of 2008, but it isn't," says Republican consultant Patrick Ruffini.

Then again, that could change by Election Day.