TOPICS > Politics

Presidential Campaigns Explore a New Medium

January 22, 2007 at 5:50 PM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, the race is on, and a good deal of it, as we’re hearing, is online. To help us look at that part of the campaign, we’re joined by Carol Darr, director of the George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.

Welcome to you.

CAROL DARR, George Washington University’s Institute for Politics: Thanks.

JEFFREY BROWN: So how unusual is it to have these announcements coming online? And why are the campaigns doing it?

CAROL DARR: It’s unusual that they’re announcing online. What’s not unusual is that so much of the campaign is focused online. That’s what’s new, that they’re announcing — two of them have announced online.

JEFFREY BROWN: When you say that it’s not unusual that so much of it is online, you’re referring to what happened in the last campaign round?

CAROL DARR: In the last election, in 2004, with Howard Dean, what Howard Dean did online was considered very odd and very unusual. And people wanted to know, who are those people online?

And in the space of four years, the people online are most of the people in the United States who cover the news and cover politics. So it’s natural to put most of your campaign online.

Reasons for reaching out online

JEFFREY BROWN: So who are they trying to reach? I mean, you might say that millions and millions of people have the ability to be online. But are there specific online audiences that the campaigns are trying to reach?

CAROL DARR: Yes, everybody can do it. But what the Internet does is it's a place for people who tend to be news junkies and political junkies. And it's the group of people most likely to volunteer, to donate, to get out and advocate on behalf of campaigns.

So it really is this golden group of people; even though it's small, it's exactly who you want to reach if you're a candidate.

JEFFREY BROWN: You said to donate. We just heard in Judy's segment about all the money that will have to be raised. So part of this phenomenon is to help do that.

CAROL DARR: Absolutely. The Internet will allow a candidate to go in a fundraising stance from zero to 60. You could never do that before the Internet.

If you recall, with Howard Dean, you know, he not only raised enough money on the Internet to be competitive, at the time he had raised more money than anybody.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the same time, if they're targeting these specific, these activist people online, somehow at the same time it also reaches the rest of us. All these announcements this weekend were into the mainstream news.

CAROL DARR: Yes, there's an interaction. It does two things. When you go to the people online, those people tend to be very influential, and they tend to be people who are networkers and people who have, you know, a big social and professional circle. So they tend to tell their friends and colleagues.

And what the other thing the Internet does is you now have this interaction between, if you will, the blogosphere and mainstream media.

New phenomena

JEFFREY BROWN: And I was reading these articles over the weekend and today about the campaigns. And suddenly you're getting quotes from people called "Internet strategists." This is sort of a new phenomenon of campaign worker. How important are they in campaigns today, this Internet strategy?

CAROL DARR: You know, four years ago, these people were called webmasters, not campaign strategists. And they were complaining that they didn't have a seat at the table with the senior campaign strategists. Now they're front and center. Half the articles are about the Internet strategists now.

JEFFREY BROWN: The other piece of it in the 2006 campaign, of course, was what was the so-called YouTube phenomenon, the famous macaca incident with then-Governor George Allen. Do you see that expanding as we go forward in 2008, toward 2008?

CAROL DARR: I see that being a huge part of it, because what you saw in 2006, you started to see just the beginning of that phenomenon, where you would have people with videos or even cell phone cameras, you know, tracking a candidate. And it went quickly from tracking a candidate to being blocked by the candidate's staff, and then it went to provoking the candidate. And I think what you're going to see in 2008 is a lot of tracker provocateurs.

More 'interactive' campaigns

JEFFREY BROWN: I read that Hillary Clinton is having on-line conversations even tonight. She's starting sort of chats. We saw in the clip in Judy's set-up piece, where she said, "I want to have a conversation with you." So the Internet is that kind of direct discussion reaching out, isn't it?

CAROL DARR: It is. And what you're going to see is campaigns from now on are going to be more interactive, at least with the activists. You're not going to have campaigns thinking that they can control that dialogue. It's no longer a monologue.

It's this interactive back and forth, where they've got what amounts to, in some cases, their own TV channel, YouTube, where they can respond to you in a national way, if you're a candidate.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Carol Darr of the George Washington University, thanks a lot.

CAROL DARR: Thank you.