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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Internet Gap

The Republican presidential candidates are all on the Web. Fine. Most of them have even taken the first, halting steps into the brave new world of social media. They have MySpace pages, load video up to YouTube, and control their Facebook profiles. That’s delightful — probably even good for democracy. But as of yet, you haven’t seen one of them (who isn’t named Ron Paul) embrace the change that the Internet has wrought.
Joe Trippi believes that is going to hurt them badly in the general election.
In a video recorded by a blogger for TechPresident (which does a terrific job chronicling the ways in which technology is transforming presidential politics) the current Edwards strategist and former Dean guru sounds off in a segment that strikes me as particularly unguarded, and interesting.


Barack Obama has something like 258,000 donors. Trippi’s guy — John Edwards — has watched more than 100,000 individuals contribute to his campaign, and that’s about where the Clinton camp is as well.
That means the top three candidates on the Democratic side have already seen around a half-million people give money to their campaigns. Together they have email lists that number in the millions. They’ve all built entire organic communities of volunteers and activists. And it’s not even an election year.
In short, that means no matter who the nominee is, she or he will inherit an incredible windfall online — and right now, there is no corresponding structure on the GOP side of things.
The point isn’t even so much about donors – in 2007, the Web is a lot more than an ATM machine. By the time the primary is over, the winning candidate will have amassed (or will inherit) donor lists and email contacts in the millions, a network of passionate and experienced activists, an incredible database of information to track it all, and a staff with a highly developed sense of how to put all these tools into use in an effective way.
Historically, it’s strange for Democrats to be ahead of the curve. It took us awhile to catch on with direct mail. After twenty years, we’re still nowhere close with talk radio — just last month, the Center for American Progress released a study which found that 76 percent of the news programming in the nation’s top 10 radio markets is conservative. And our dominance online is recent — in 2000, remember, the campaign widely accredited with having the best Internet operation was that of Sen. John McCain.
All of which leads me to believe that, eventually, the GOP will counter the advantage. There’s already a strong conservative blog presence. The fact that Ron Paul wins any online poll in which his name is an option indicates that there are GOP-leaning super-volunteers on the Web. The right has its share of talented tech staffers. It’s certainly not like progressive talk radio where good content can’t find an audience. It’s just a matter of time before they catch up. Until then, Democrats need to take full advantage of the Internet gap–and continue to push the envelope.

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