The First Internet Election

As we draw closed the curtain on this campaign, Nagourney has an Election Day look back on how 2008 changed the way campaigns are run. And not surprisingly, the chief protagonist is the Internet:

“The great impact that this election will have for the future is that it killed public financing for all time,” said Mr. McCain’s chief campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt. “That means the next Republican presidential campaign, hopefully a re-election for John McCain, will need to be a billion-dollar affair to challenge what the Democrats have accomplished with the use of the Internet and viral marketing to communicate and raise money.”

“It was a profound leap forward technologically,” Mr. Schmidt added. “Republicans will have to figure out how to compete with this in order to become competitive again at a national level and in House and Senate races.”

This transformation did not happen this year alone. In 2000, Mr. Bush’s campaign, lead by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, pioneered the use of microtargeting to find and appeal to potential new supporters. In 2004, the presidential campaign of Howard Dean was widely credited with being the first to see the potential power of the Internet to raise money and sign up volunteers, a platform that Mr. Obama tremendously expanded.

“They were Apollo 11, and we were the Wright Brothers,” said Joe Trippi, the manager of Mr. Dean’s campaign.

If Republicans conclude that 2008 was simply a mechanical failure -- that it was all about how Barack Obama "used" the Internet or ran an otherwise flawless campaign -- then they will draw the wrong lessons from this year.

Take a close look at Obama's final video released tonight:

None of this would have been possible had Obama not been the cult figure we first saw at the 2004 Democratic convention. Had it been another candidate with the 25-person new media team, the corporate graphic design team in-house, a founder of Facebook on staff, the millions spent on search marketing alone, we still would have applauded, but it wouldn't have been the same. Because there has to be something organically right about it for it to work. This is why some candidates and causes catch on online and others just don't, despite trying every tactic in the book.

The central fact of Obama is the incredible political skill of the candidate. And a campaign was built around him that complemented his strengths. Technology allowed the enormous energy around a candidate like Obama to be harnessed in ways that tangibly helped the campaign, first by dramatically changing the fundraising landscape, and second by making possible a massive influx of volunteer energy (that the publicly funded campaigns of yesteryear simply couldn't have digested). In that it allowed him to reach for the $1 billion spending mark, the Internet was absolutely central to Obama's campaign, even if only a small fraction of that money was spent online. 

But as important as these strategies and tactics were, the fundamental building block is the candidate. The candidates who are successful online are the ones who don't just lead campaigns or political parties -- they lead movements. When they ask people to get involved, they really mean it. Our 2012 candidate has to be comfortable with building a movement. Before a change in strategy can work, our candidates need to change. Layering a good Internet strategy on top of someone running for President of the cocktail party circuit whose campaign only cares about bundling the most big checks in Q1 or Q2 of 2011 will not work. That model died in 2008.

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True, but demographics are key to this

One reason the Internet was key to Obama's success was also the constituency.  I don't have the statistics to back me up, but my impression is that Obama's supporters are also very Internet-savvy, so reaching them through that medium wasn't going to require a big leap.  IIRC, he was the first to initiate outreach from supporters through Facebook.

But your comments about building a proper strategy around the candidate are fundamental.  I look at McCain's operation and see a similarity to Clinton's operation in the Dem primaries.  Not to be disrespectful to all supporters, but I'm not sure there's a fantastic case to be made for a new media representation of McCain that translates online.  McCain reminds me of Hank Hill -- much more comfortable face-to-face than working the Internet.

I see the real political lesson of 2008 as that of understanding the upside.  As has been shown this year, when an online strategy works, the results (volunteering, contributions, the movement) can be overwhelming.

I can't wait for the post-election analysis

 It is going to be extremely interesting to try to winnow out the quality of the campaign from the qualities of the candidate.  Even looking at the campaign, there are a thousand parts of it that make the whole -- some of them were almost certainly mistakes -- but people will assume that everything that was done was correct.  People will slavishly mimic the campaign, and will find that they fail.

I think in the end people will find that Obama really worked hard to keep the primary election close -- he saw the tremendous tactical value in building the state volunteer organizations, and he saw the strategic value in running a high-tone campaign -- both of which carried him well into the general election.  Even in the general election, I believe that Obama kept quite a bit of his powder dry -- in particular by defunding the 527's. 

Getting lucky with the economy, of course, is something that can't be planned or duplicated.

sez who?

Republicans like to rig the stupid stockmarket -- damn their blasted hides, durn ideologues. They figured they could pull it off until after Obama got elected. It almost worked too -- if it wasn't for their incompetency.

Everything is out of control, folks, and the boats ain't movin'. Bad times ahead, and I ain't kiddin'

Make it fun

Our 2012 candidate has to be comfortable with building a movement. Before a change in strategy can work, our candidates need to change. Layering a good Internet strategy on top of someone running for President of the cocktail party circuit whose campaign only cares about bundling the most big checks in Q1 or Q2 of 2011 will not work.

Not only won't it work it will be boring for really good online politicos. What I love about online politics is the ability to experiment and quickly get feedback. It's fun growing an audience, listening to them, talking to them, and figuring out how everyone can work together to succeed.

Blogging in the media

I spent too much time this election blogging on news media blogs and I realized it seemed that there were a limited number of people blogging. You'd see the same id's day after day. It became unsatisfying as I was not reaching a larger audience. Most of the bloggers did not include links to any MSM articles on the candidates that would give the view some substance. So if I'm just dueling opinions with someone who has no verifiable facts, what's the point? I can make up things just like the next person. Truly there was little investigative reporting done at least on Obama and Biden. The Enquirer broke the story on Edwards. The latest was the SF Chronicle burying his quote that he would "Bankrupt the electric coal generating plants". The quote was only in the audio and was never printed in the article that was based on the interview with Obama back in January. The story about the quote was broke by the Times of London. At the end I didn't even know Biden was in the race. When some news media put out a negative story on Obama, such as the one the Boston Globe did his failed housing projects or the one the Chicago SunTimes did on his failed Chicago school projects, the media never spread around the article. It was buried. Another was the BusinessWeek interview that Obama did in April when he said only those making less than 75k would get tax relief.  I felt very frustrated with the media siding with Obama. If Republicans are to expand their influence, they need to not only figure out how to increase fundraising and participation through the internet, they need to force the media to cover the investigative stories on the opposition. The Repulicans also need more viable candidates such as in Connecticut where it seems to be a lost cause for them. There is a lot of work to be done.

you did run a repug candidate

name's lieberman.

Web design

Web design Designers are communicators. They put their technical and artistics skills to deliver a message a purpose, a project throught a web page, a magazine, an object, etc. Their designs serve a purpose. Some designers are artists because they put their technical and artistic skills to make a piece of art. But in this case there is no purpose, is just the need of a self expression and the compulsion to create. One person can be an artist and a designer, but when is designing is just a designer and when is creating with no goal just for the pleasure or torment to create then is just an artist.