Another Perspective

Obama’s Fast Draw

Will Kid Barack raise a cool hundred million this month?

By 6.11.08

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When Joe Trippi took over as Howard Dean's presidential campaign manager in January of 2003, there were only seven staffers, $100,000 in the bank and only 432 supporters. By the end of that year, Trippi marveled that "we're actually on top, ahead in the polls, in the process of raking in more than $50 million, $15.8 million in this fund-raising quarter alone -- a record -- most of it from small donations of $100 or less."

These were the fruits of an insurgent campaign driven by the Internet, what Trippi terms "the dominant technology," as its organizing principle.

And whose record were they beating? "Our own! From the quarter before," crowed Trippi, noting that they now had an army of almost 600,000 supporters. Trippi tells this story in his campaign memoir, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2004), a pretty impressive accomplishment back then.

Just this week the Hill, a Washington paper on Capitol politics, reported that leading Democratic fundraisers predict that Senator Barack Obama will raise $100 million in June while increasing his new donor base to 2.5 or 3 million supporters.

Not all of this princely sum will be raised on-line given that large donors who were either supporting Hillary Clinton, or were sitting on the sideline, are now going to swing Obama's way. But the Internet still promises to be a bountiful source of revenue given that most cyber-donors have only given a couple of hundred dollars each, nowhere near the legal limit. This is the gift that keeps on giving.

Back during the Pennsylvania primary, I recall Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. expressing amazement that Obama raised over $40 million online in February without attending a single fundraiser!

Patrick Ruffini, a Republican expert and blogger on Internet politics, has observed that a defining moment for Republicans over the last decade was when George W. Bush's campaign announced a record $37 million fundraising total for the first six months of 1999! Times have certainly changed.

OVER AT THE VERY liberal Huffington Post, they were recently running a headline about Obama waging a 50-state campaign, which was surely hyperbole but well within the bounds of artistic license.

Just as the Conservative-Republican alliance excelled in developing direct mail, think tanks and talk radio as vehicles for furthering its political cause, it now seems that the Liberal-Democratic alliance, at least the Obama wing of it, is excelling in using the Internet and online fundraising to reconfigure the battlefield, so to speak.

Back in 2004 Richard Viguerie, the master of conservative direct-mail campaigning going back to Goldwater, and David Franke noted that the Internet was an alternative media that was upending the lumbering dinosaurs of the establishment media. Notwithstanding the importance of direct mail, talk radio, and cable TV news, Viguerie and Franke argued that "none empower the individual voter as effectively and as forcefully as the Internet does."

"Your modem is your equalizer, your cyber-Colt .45," said Viguerie and Franke. "You have a direct line -- with no intermediaries or filters -- to any publications or Web site around the world, to other citizens who share your interests and viewpoints, to government bureaucrats, to your political representatives, to the stores you want to do business with-you name it."

Howard Dean, John Kerry and now Barack Obama have taken Internet campaigning and fundraising to places no man or woman has ever gone before. This is certainly not the case with John McCain or the Republican National Committee.

IS THIS GOING TO LOOK like one of those massacres that occurred when the long bow or gunpowder was first introduced on the battlefield? Maybe not. After all, Dean and Kerry lost. Low-tech can beat high-tech if deployed with cunning and imagination. And, yes, issues and candidates do matter even in our heavily manipulated political campaigns saturated with the ethos of Madison Avenue and Hollywood. John McCain's comeback in New Hampshire is evidence of that. A little luck would help, too.

Trippi views the Republican Party as a command-and-control party, wedded to top-down management, and thus not naturally inclined to Internet campaigning. But that is an inaccurate assessment of the GOP whose base has its genesis in movements such as the Goldwater insurrection, the Right-to-Life movement, the Tax Revolt in California and the defense of the Second Amendment. Candidates smart enough to jump in front of those parades were usually rewarded handsomely at the polls.

That said, the GOP needs to pay heed to Trippi, Viguerie and Franke and avoid becoming road kill on the Information Highway.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.