Savvy Politicos Will Keep Net Outreach Front and Center

By Chris Nolan  |  Posted 2004-11-17

Savvy Politicos Will Keep Net Outreach Front and Center

This presidential election cycle was as tech-rich as any weve seen. Weblogs, Meetups, Moveons, click-through fund-raising and—most of all—e-mail were put to use on both sides, Republican and Democratic, to get the word, the vote and the message out.

The Internet, with its roughly 132 million users, is now part of the election process. It has leveled the fund-raising gulf between Republicans and Democrats.

There was lots of liberal political talk in tech circles, but the Net was used with cool efficiency by Republicans. The Bush-Cheney re-election efforts 6 million e-mail addresses —and the information the party sent to volunteers working on its behalf via those addresses—played a key role in Republicans victory.

But the fun doesnt stop with the end of a presidential election cycle.

Were already getting an inkling of what things might look like. Republican party activists are trying to keep their momentum going with sites such as, started by founders, to keep Sen. Arlen Specter from taking the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The site is urging readers to write, call or fax their local senator to urge that Specter not be elected to the committee chairmanship. Granted, RedState, which recently organized as a 527 political activist group, isnt relying solely on e-mail. But the goal—using technology to get folks to take action and speak out—is the same.

The Senate should continue to be the site of the most heated action over the next two years. Why? The Senate confirms judicial and Cabinet appointments, so itll be the center of the most heated exchanges between the two parties.

Click here for a recap of todays biggest tech battles—and how the changes in Congress will affect them.

The Senate has a Republican majority, but 60 voters are needed to stop a filibuster, an open-ended debate that senators use to block action. A crafty political organizer—Democrat or Republican—might follow RedStates lead in using the power of the Internet by e-mailing voters to urge them to lobby their senators on a vote for or against the end of a filibuster.

Its likely to happen because three senators, all with their own ambition for higher office—the presidency—also have their own sites and e-mail addresses. Barack Obama, one of the few Democrats to claim a seat in the U.S. Senate this year, has the "Barack Brigade."

Democratic nominee John Kerrys list is said to have more than 2 million names. New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton also has the "Friends of Hillary."

The potential for any of these senators to influence voters outside of their immediate constituencies is not trivial. Since they are national figures, they have attracted and cultivated supporters in all states and can easily get more; its part of their long-range strategy.

Next Page: The parties sort out their responses.

Sorting It Out

Besides, not everyone on the Democrats list necessarily voted the straight Democratic ticket. In Pennsylvania, for instance, voters supported Kerrys presidency but returned Specter, a Republican, to the Senate. So, the power of individual senators to reach voters they might not normally speak to is considerable.

Now, Democrats are having a difficult time sorting out their response to the Republican victory. The party is split between its ambitious moderates—Kerry is the best example—and its star personalities such as Obama and Clinton.

Theres also a split between the tech-savvy, led by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and the more centralized, corporate-style politicking that characterizes organizations such as the New Democratic Network and the Democratic National Committee.

Republicans will have a slightly easier time coming up with the best tech-savvy strategy simply because theyre the majority party. Their agenda isnt split between well-known politicians or personalities. The party agenda is the agenda of the Bush administration.

Nevertheless, there will be tactical choices to make. The questions on the Republican side are more about maintaining loyalty and party discipline in face of what could be—as the Specter fight illustrates—fierce disputes between conservatives and moderates.

Can Republicans use e-mail and the Net to keep the pressure on those who disagree? Or will fissures among voters—Nevada, for instance, went for Bush, but its also represented by new Senate minority leader Sen. Harry Reid—bubble more quickly to the surface because voters can and do talk directly to their senators?

The answer is a spectacularly unclear, "Who knows?" One thing does seem pretty obvious, however. The power of the Internet to reach voters directly—and let them reach back and talk directly to politicians and political insiders—is about to move off of the campaign trail and onto Capitol Hill. Technology and Politics columnist Chris Nolan spent years chronicling the excesses of the dot-com era with incisive analysis leavened with a dash of humor. Before that, she covered politics and technology in D.C. You can read her musings on politics and technology every day in her Politics from Left to Right Weblog.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis of technologys impact on government and politics.

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