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Internet-driven campaign keeps link to supporters

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By David M. Brown
Monday, Nov. 24, 2008
 

The 2008 presidential campaign was not simply an election. In many ways, it was an e-lection.

Now the legion of supporters President-elect Barack Obama cultivated on the Internet and through e-mail is embarking on a new campaign to help him govern. And Republicans, outdone by Obama's Internet-driven machine, say they're working to rebuild their party with 21st century technology.

"Electing Barack was the first big step, but there's a lot of challenging and important work ahead," his campaign manager, David Plouffe, wrote in a recent e-mail to about 10 million Obama backers.

An attached survey asks supporters if they want to continue volunteering as part of an ongoing grassroots Obama organization. They're offered roles "helping Barack's administration pass legislation," helping to elect like-minded state and local candidates, working on local issues or "training volunteers in the organizing techniques we used to elect Barack."

"You cannot imagine the potential that this has for him to do something that has never been done before," said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

"Without a doubt, that e-mail list gives him tremendous potential to move his policy agenda, using the 10 million people as influencers of public opinion, folks to lobby directly with Congress," Madonna said.

It's not uncommon for newly elected officials to ask supporters for additional help. But Obama's mastery of the Internet for organizing volunteers and carrying out missions is unprecedented for an incoming president, analysts said. So is his enormous list of e-mail contacts collected during a 21-month campaign, including about 3.1 million people who donated money.

Plouffe's e-mail suggests Obama will try to keep his organization mobilized, said Karla Cunningham, the Elsie Hillman Chair of Politics at Chatham University.

"I think his strength really was a populist base," she said. "It's not entirely a surprise to me that he's carrying it forward."

Staying connected with his base of supporters gives Obama "an additional source of influence when he gets to Washington and assumes power," Cunningham said.

The Internet first played a major political role in Democrat Howard Dean's race for president four years ago but this year came into its own as a political weapon.

Now that Democrats will control the White House and enjoy significantly expanded majorities in both chambers of Congress, Republicans say they've got to learn to keep up when it comes to technology.

A group of prominent, young Republicans is starting with a Web site -- www.rebuildtheparty.com -- that touts the Internet as a path to recovery.

"We must be conservative in philosophy -- but bold in our approach," the Web site states. "We don't need a slight tweak here or there. We need transformation. We can't keep fighting a 21st century war with 20th century weapons."

Republican John McCain's use of e-mail and the Internet seemed remarkable but was far surpassed by Obama's command of high-tech politics, Madonna said.

Technology was the tool, but good organization was the leverage, Cunningham said.

"Ultimately, technology doesn't vote," she said. "Technology gave him a sort of raw intelligence. He had an organization ready to move out. He was able to get out the door and target the right people and move the people who hadn't voted out to the polls."

Obama used e-mail to send messages tailored to specific issues and regions and to respond to attacks and organize what analysts describe as one of the most successful turn-out-the-vote organizations in political history. He reached out to young voters, who voted for him by a 2-to-1 ratio, through social networking Web sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

The Internet also was at the heart of Obama's record-shattering fundraising machine: E-mail solicitations accounted for much of the record $639 million he raised, with about half the total came from donations of $200 or less.

"The Republicans are certainly going to have to compete with that and find a way to energize voters," Madonna said.

 

 
 


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