Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oct. 31, 2006

The viral revolution
(Tony Maciulis, MSNBC senior producer)

Tony Maciulis
Senior producer


After some much-publicized candid camera moments on the campaign trial, we were quick to dub this “the YouTube election.”

And, without a doubt, YouTube and other video sharing sites are changing the political game rapidly. There is George Allen’s “macaca” moment, Senator Burns nodding off at a hearing, and Harold Ford balking in Memphis, just to name a few.

Gone are the days when a candidate could make a mistake or test a stump speech in a small district without the fear of national humiliation. Any cell phone at any venue can become a weapon for the opponent.

But the Internet is changing the political landscape in a very positive way, as well. The Web provides an opportunity for every American to participate in the political process.

First, both parties have made use of the Web to make inroads in previously neglected districts.

For Republicans, that came in the form of a “netroots” campaign through websites like GOP.com. That site has a social networking section called “My GOP,” just like the popular site “My Space.” Operatives use it to identify registered Republicans in every district and then connect with them, whether in the virtual or the real world.

Democratic bloggers have made a real push to get more would-be Dems into the game. This election, Democratic candidates are running in 425 congressional races, up from 400 two years ago.

With just 15 seats standing between “minority” and “majority” in the House, this kind of effort is invaluable.

And the Web also provides a chance for unknowns or third party candidates to attract attention.

The 5th District in Oklahoma is considered “safe” for Republican candidate Mary Fallin, but there is a third part candidate on the ticket—Matthew Horton Woodson, an Independent with some, well, unique views on 9/11.

I discovered him, and his “Send Me a Buck” campaign, on MySpace. You’ll find lots of other candidates there, as well, all hoping for some help from their cyber buddies.

And it isn’t so crazy. Iraq vet and Democrat Paul Hackett came really close to beating Rep. Jean Schmidt in the solidly GOP Ohio District 2. Almost his entire war chest came from bloggers.

Of course, the gold standard today is still Howard Dean’s amazing Web campaign in 2004. He raised nearly $25 million in online donations from people who each gave $100 or less.

Joe Trippi was correct, the revolution will not be televised. But it will be viral!