Campaign of 2008

After 26 months, more than 10 candidates and over 12 debates, the campaign of 2008 came to end.  For once, this was a campaign, an election, that lived up to our expectations.  It will likely be seen as the most important election of our lifetime…until the next most important election of our lifetime, of course.  Nonetheless, this election set the precedent, changed the rules and invigorated the electorate.  A few highlights:


America did it.  There was no Bradley effect.  Forty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” more than 200,000 people gathered in Grant Park to see Barack Obama address the nation as President-elect:




  • The 2008 campaign was the most expensive ever, with more than $5.3 billion spent
  • McCain stuck with public financing, and may well have been the last presidential candidate to make that mistake
  • Obama raised over $500 million, attracting more than 3 million donors who gave little but gave often








    Frontrunners or Insurgents?

    “This is the most important legacy of Howard Dean’s campaign for president.  From this point on, there will be a new special interest group to reckon with – the American people.  And this special interest group has a tool – the Internet..Now politics are no longer the domain of that one-quarter of 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans who give 80 percent of individual political donations….Now the power is back in our hands.”  Joe Trippi


    Trippi sees the Internet as the “empowerment age,” shifting power from top-down institutions to a “power that is democratically distributed and shared by all of us.”

    Such a populist approach to the power of the Internet comes from a man who saw his insurgent candidate fly with the Internet and then, ultimately, fall to the traditional media and political power structure when they had a presence in 2004. I think Trippi would argue the Internet is a tool for insurgent candidates – a tool that, because of its open and chaotic nature, does not adapt to frontrunner, top-down campaigns.


    I agree that through the 2008 election, the Internet was largely a tool of insurgent candidates.  I disagree, however, that the Internet intrinsically favors dark horse insurgents. That might have been true in 1996, 2000 and into 2004 when the Internet was still largely being explored by the masses for social connections and adapted by campaigns for political use.  Since then, the Internet has gone mainstream and Moore’s Law tells us it is advancing at such a pace that the candidate who can’t master it won’t even be a candidate.


    Ironically, it was two insurgent candidacies, the Dean campaign in 2004 and Obama’s campaign in 2008 that, I believe, opened the Internet to frontrunners.  Dean’s campaign, led by Trippi, rocked the political world and the young minds involved spread like ripples throughout the 2008 campaign.  In that election, Obama was the insurgent candidate and he won, using tools largely built on from Dean’s campaign.  Whoever did not see the power of the Internet in 2004 (ahem, Mark Penn, see Trippi p. 249) awoke to it in 2008.  Obama succeeded to such a degree that no candidate will make the mistake of Hillary Clinton in surrounding themselves with “old minds.”


    Insurgent candidates use the Internet effectively out of necessity.   The Internet gives such candidates a voice and means to compete, but it is not something limited to their use.  Every candidate can use the Internet to reach folks like Lou Stark, the 89-year old who was motivated to join the Dean campaign.  And every candidate can use tools like blogs, MeetUp and Get Local that were created in 2004 and enhanced in 2008 to reach voters.


    What sets candidates apart is their message.  Trippi writes, “Every other candidate has started by saying – Look at me.  Aren’t I amazing?  But every time Howard Dean got up to speak, every time his campaign staff got on the web to blog, the message was Look at you.  Aren’t you amazing?  Obama followed the same model in 2008 and that is what fueled his campaign and drove his success.  Online and off, it was “you” and “us,” not “I.”  This is the tool that matters.


    As Trippi says, the Internet is able to give voice to the silent, influence to the average and power to the powerless.  It will always be a tool for insurgents, but by 2012 and beyond it will be mainstream to the degree it must, and will, be the tool of the frontrunner.


    White House 2.0

    The first Tech President.  What does that mean and where will that take us?

    Obama revolutionized political campaigning and now he has the opportunity to revolutionize the White House and bring government into a Web 2.0 world.

    His transition Web site,, gives us a hint of what is to come, taking us behind-the-scenes of the transition process, providing information and resources.  As a reminder of the high expectations Obama faces, the site has come under criticism for being too one-way and undergoing some clever revisions.

    The opportunities for Obama are limitless, but I think he’d be wise to focus his revolution on two areas:

    1)      Video

    2)      Transparency

    He’s off to a good start with video, breaking new ground by delivering the weekly Democratic address not just on radio but also on video.   The address already has more than 1,000,000 views on YouTube.  And how many people gathered by the radio to listen to President Bush? 

    Obama’s White House transition team has also indicated they’ll conduct online Q&As and video interviews, including with choices for the Cabinet and policy experts.  I like Dan Manatt’s idea to weave YouTube through all of government, creating a GovTube that would put video in a searchable and friendly format.  This would also enable Kevin Thurman’s smart vision to bring a two-way dialogue to every agency and every Cabinet secretary, getting the “federal government behind having a conversation with citizens online.”

    Obama has also indicated he’ll take the lead on transparency.

    Obama would be smart to closely follow the 21st Century Right to Know Project to build a White House 2.0.

    Let’s see “wikis, comment sections, collaborative projects, public review of pending policies and online dialogues” to bring democracy to the people.  Make G-Webs as familiar a term as YouTube and Facebook to the general public.

    The best sign we have of Obama’s commitment is the man he’s place at his side:  Google CEO Eric Schmidt.  He may not become CTO, but hopefully his presence will bring the Google mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” straight to Washington, DC.





    Do you drink Coors or Corona?  Drive a Porsche or a Prius?  Think only an advertising executive on Madison Avenue cares about your preferences and habits?  Wrong.  Welcome to the world of campaigning 2.0.  Today, the folks from the DNC to the RNC care, and very likely already know everything about you.  After the success of the Obama campaign, microtargeting, the art of applying consumer data to voter outreach, is in politics to stay. 


    What Alex Gage and the Republican Party revolutionized in 2000 is now standard practice in politics:   using personal data collected by “powerful and expensive databases” (see the GOP’s Voter Vault and the progressive Catalist) to “target voters with pinpoint precision.”  Now that the Democrats have finally caught up with the Republicans in their store of data knowledge, Alex Gage said it best, “…once you  have the information, what do you do with it?  That’s the real question.”


    Republicans, as usual, took the early advantage, launching their vaunted “72-Hour Project” in the 2002 election to get base voters to the polls.  The Obama campaign took it to the next level in 2008, compiling all information into one massive database and using that data to contact voters when they wanted it, how they wanted it and with the information they wanted to hear.


    Which raises the bigger question of what the future of microtargeting will mean to politics and the electorate?  The debate over invasion of privacy issues that always arises with microtargeting is a non-issue to me as that information already exists in the public space and is used every day to persuade me to choose Target over K-Mart, Coke over Pepsi and Nike over Reebok.  The real question, for me, is the harm microtargeting does to the electorate.  Just as the Internet can make politics a one-way conversation, will the growth of microtargeting in politics mean the electorate is pandered to, with voters only hear the messaging they want, when they want it, framed in the way they want it?  Reporters are already covering the prospect of Obama unleashing his online army in the White House.  Microtargeting as governance?


    In the end though, no matter how high we try to exult it, politics is business, and microtargeting makes good business sense.  Political database firms have goals of building a “living record of nearly every political action undertaken by an American,” the Republican Party will rebuild and Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 could cost $1 billion.  Microtargeting is here to stay.

    The Election and The Media

    James Poniewozik has a great article in Time on the media and this presidential election that hits on a few points I’d been thinking about as well.  The first is the insatiable appetite the public has had for this election.  From polling sites to The Note and First Read, the Internet has allowed the average voter to track this election like they’re James Carville or George Stephanopoulos.   (See too Eugene Robinson’s humorous take on this.)  Poniewozik attributes this to the very high stakes the electorate sees in this election.  Poniewozik makes the obvious point that this rapid feed of news has moved us from a 24-hour news cycle to a 24-minute news cycle, but makes what I think is an interesting argument that this “souped-up cycle” has not made the election more trivial but, in fact, raised the level by keeping voters engaged.  The McCain campaign clearly fell into the media’s bait of 24-minute news while the Obama campaign  stuck with their message from the primary on, and won.

    The “media formerly known as mainstream,” as Poniewozik so aptly calls them, had to adapt in this election to anything becoming news at any time.  Candidates utilizing nontraditional media like The View and The Late Show to reach voters made names like Elisabeth Hasselbeck and David Letterman somehow political, and traditional news outlets like CNN responded by adding names like D.L. Hughley to its roster of David Gergen-talking heads.  He points out the power of nontraditional media to drive the debate was enhanced by the blogosphere, but voters still rely on the mainstream media to validate their political news.  This, on a broader scale, was a thought I’ve had many times this week as we saw what the public sought in the days after Obama’s win.  Print and mainstream may never go too far.



    Election Coverage 2.0

    Yes we can is now officially yes we did.  After more than 22 months, ten debates and 12 candidates, the man who was powered by 21st century technology became the nation’s first 21st century president.


    Surrounded by options like Twitter and social media overload, I stuck with the mainstream media to see how, or if, they would incorporate the Internet and technology into their coverage. 


    It seemed every network had their token technology reporter monitoring the blogs, and all broadcast their coverage online via live webcasts.  Who could have the fastest, newest and fanciest technology was definitely the game of the night:



    •  Fox News built three new HD studios just for Tuesday night, including a giant, touch-screen wall for electoral map results.


    • ABC had digital maps used to look at up-to-the-minute votes by county, and compare votes from past elections. 


    ·         NBC had two studios, one used to digitally show exit-polling information on a wall, and the other as Chuck Todd’s home for the night to analyze results by region, state and county.   NBC also partnered with MySpace on Decision08 with video, news feeds and blogs from NBC reporters.


    ·         CBS used touch-screen maps to analyze exit-poll and demographic data down to state and county results.  Katie Couric continued her online presence by anchoring a live Webcast after the live broadcast coverage ended.


    ·         Even Comedy Central got into the action, using Meebo to host chat rooms during their election night special.


    As a viewer, where did all of this get me?  Straight to the Internet, of course.  Tired of seeing John King enlarge New Hampshire to view county-by-county results in the Shaheen win, I jumped online.  There, I turned to Google  to see how incumbents like Murtha and Shays were faring.  And I turned to the Page to get the news no virtual map or blog reporters could give me on television: 






    New School

    The Washington Post this weekend published their 14th Annual Crystal Ball Contest with a new twist that shows the new media landscape.  Citing the explosion of the political blogosphere, the Post, for the first time, pitted “new school” bloggers against “old school” political observers in its election prediction contest.  It seems to me another sign that bloggers and “new media” journalists are gaining credibility, but not quite there with mainstream media.  Once again it was “us” versus “them,” not “them” along with “us.”  The predictions were the same on each side, with only one member of each “school” predicting a McCain victory.  So bloggers and the rest seem to be getting closer, but still sidelined to the kids’ table to some degree.