I found WLS's analysis of the Obama campaign's internet usage to be both on target and fascinating.
Their use of connectivity really had its first impact on the campaign of Howard Dean, which was staffed with a huge number of young and internet saavy supporters. But their version wasn’t sufficient “mature” to overtake the establishment run campaigns of Kerry or Bush. The 2004 campaigns were still run the way campaigns had been run in the 20th Century — paid advertising, direct mail, phone banks, etc.
The people who began assembling Obama’s campaign apparatus in 2007 knew they could build a better mousetrap.
The internet wasn’t seen by them as a device simply for dispensing information to their supporters — it was a lifeline back and forth between the campaign and the supporters. Email addresses linked to PDAs and cellphones put the campaign always in contact with its supporters. I read that the Obama campaign gave away signs and bumper-stickers in exchange for getting someone’s email address, understanding that the lost revenue for the trinket could be more than made up for later on if that person was prompted to donate $10, $20 or more to the campaign through a link sent via email.
So, while Karl Rove and the GOP had their direct mail lists, and neighbor-to-neighbor 72 hour turnout operation, Obama quietly built a viral networking and fundraising juggernaut. It was 20th Century technology v. 21st Century technology.
It has forever shattered the concept of public financing for Presidential campaigns. I didn’t understand until this election that the amount of money available to a candidate who accepted public financing was whatever amount of money taxpayers had checked-off on their tax forms. I knew that was where the money came from, but I had assumed that some statute established how much the candidates got. Not true — it simply depends on how much is in the “kitty” for that year.
But Obama showed that if you have a million donors, and you can get them to give you an average of $100 over 60 days, you already have $100 million dollars and you didn’t do anything except hit a “Send” button on a computer and collect your money from the credit card companies.
Given that a Presidential campaign lasts nearly 24 months now, accumulating a few million email addresses in this wired-world seems like a no-brainer. It’ll be political malpractice in the future for any candidate to not seek to copy what the Obama campaign first saw the utility of.
I had no idea until I read this post how the amount of money a candidate got from public financing was determined. But the analysis makes sense: using e-mail appeals, a candidate spends virtually no money and can channel money into high-dollar fundraisers if necessary.
Obama used such innovative advertising techniques (my personal favorite was advertising in games) that it was nearly impossible not to be hit by an ad.
There's a certain irony that the man who gave us campaign finance reform was so hamstrung by it. And oddly enough, this election was an object lesson for why money does make the difference in a campaign. I have no doubt that, had Obama taken public financing, the race would have been a squeaker (Obama may have won, say, 50-48 or something like that). It was Obama's ability to run a cable channel, air an infomercial and run five times the number of ads that John McCain ran that made a big difference.