Obama's Interactive Surge Faces New Hampshire Challenge

Will his social network-centric campaign pull off another upset?

A buoyed Barack Obama, a bloodied Hillary Clinton and a battling John Edwards all head into the Jan. 8 New Hampshire Democratic primary with continuing questions about their Internet support translating into votes.

For Obama, it's a question of whether more of the same will deliver a victory in New Hampshire, which has decidedly different demographics than Iowa. Defying the pundits and the national polls that gave Clinton a comfortable lead going into last week's Iowa caucuses, Obama's social network-centric campaign pulled off a surprise victory, leaving Edwards and Clinton in the distance.

Before the Iowa caucuses, Obama led all Democratic presidential candidates in a number of online measurements, including the most Facebook supporters and MySpace friends. His Internet popularity, combined with an aggressive organizing effort, paid off with the first win for a candidate leading in Internet metrics.

Most damaging to Clinton, Obama's campaign captured the majority of young voters, first time voters and women under 30.

In the four days since the Iowa caucus, Obama's online popularity has continued to grow. According to TechPresident, Obama is now "seriously taking off online." YouTube views are way up and Facebook and MySpace supporters continue to grow, all at Clinton's and Edwards' expense.

Over at Eventful.com, an events database where users request a candidate to visit their cities, Obama has almost 50,000 requests for appearances. Neither Clinton nor Edwards has cracked the 13,000 barrier. Obama is also dominating the race in attracting visitors to his Web site as measured by Hitwise.

Tech-savvy Gen Xers are jumping on Obama's bandwagon. Click here to read more.

Edwards, who has trailed Obama and Clinton since the earliest days of the campaign, also received a boost from his razor-thin second place finish over Clinton in Iowa. According to Politico, he has raised more than a $1 million in online contributions since the caucuses.

Even Mike Huckabee, the upset Republican winner in Iowa, is earning chops for his online organizing and presence. Although Ron Paul continues to capture the hearts and mind of the Republican blogosphere, Huckabee's online metrics were spiking going into the Iowa caucuses.

Huckabee gave a generous nod to his online supporters shortly after the Iowa caucuses. "We're already seeing a surge in our Web traffic," Huckabee told Larry King.

"What struck me—and probably most observers of the online campaign—last Wednesday was how closely the victors of Iowa's caucuses mirrored the most popular candidates online," blogged TechPresident's Joshua Levy Jan. 7. "Barack Obama is by far the most popular candidate on Facebook and other social sites… We may be at a turning point in which online support actually can translate into votes."

Clinton seems to have learned that lesson in Iowa. Shifting campaign strategy gears after her disappointing third-place finish in Iowa, her campaign announced it will allow Facebook users to directly ask questions of Clinton, who'll respond in videos. Suddenly keenly aware of the youth vote, she promised to University of New Hampshire students that she would work "to improve the lives of young people."

Click here to read more about Obama's evolving hi-tech strategy.

The new focus on young voters flies in the face of statements by two of Clinton's top campaign strategists, Mandy Grunwald and Mark Penn, before the Iowa caucuses. "Our people look like caucus-goers and [Obama's] people look like they are 18," Grunwald said. "Penn said they look like Facebook."

That's exactly who they were and they turned out in record numbers to vote, principally for Obama.

"I don't know how the election is going to turn out, but right now it's fair to note that the candidates with the strongest interactive campaigns—Huckabee and Obama, in particular—are doing well in expanding the electorate and attracting unlikely voters to their side," Micah Sifry, editor of TechPresident, wrote Jan 6.

Check out eWEEK.com's Messaging & Collaboration Center for more on IM and other collaboration technologies