If the other major candidates had many of the same Web tools, their experiences show that having them isn’t enough: you must make them central to the campaign and properly manage the networks of supporters they help organize. Observers say that Clinton’s campaign deployed good tools but that online social networks and new media weren’t as big a part of its strategy; at least in its early months, it relied more on conventional tactics like big fund-raisers. After all, Clinton was at the top of the party establishment. “They [the Obama supporters] are chanting ‘Yes we can,’ and she’s saying ‘I don’t need you,’” Trippi says. “That is what the top of that campaign said by celebrating Terry McAuliffe [the veteran political operative and former Democratic National Committee chairman] and how many millions he could put together with big, big checks. She doesn’t need my $25!” The two campaigns’ fund-raising statistics support Trippi’s argument: 48 percent of Obama’s funds came from donations of less than $200, compared with 33 percent of Clinton’s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Clinton’s Internet director, Peter Daou, credits the Obama campaign with doing an “amazing job” with its online social network. “If there is a difference in how the two campaigns approached [a Web strategy], a lot of those differences were based on our constituencies,” Daou says. “We were reaching a different demographic of supporters and used our tools accordingly.” For example, he says, the Clinton campaign established a presence on the baby-boomer social-networking site Eons.com, and Clinton herself often urged listeners to visit www.hillaryclinton.com. But Andrew Rasiej says that the conventional political wisdom questioned the value of the Internet. “As far as major political circles were concerned,” he says, “Howard Dean failed, and therefore the Internet didn’t work.”
While it’s hard to tease out how much Clinton’s loss was due to her Web strategy–and how much to factors such as her Iraq War vote and the half-generation difference between her and Obama’s ages–it seems clear that her campaign deëmphasized Web strategy early on, Trippi says. Even if you “have all the smartest bottom-up, tech-savvy people working for you,” he says, “if the candidate and the top of the campaign want to run a top-down campaign, there is nothing you can do. It will sit there and nothing will happen. That’s kind of what happened with the Clinton campaign.”
Republican Ron Paul had a different problem: Internet anarchy. Where the Obama campaign built one central network and managed it effectively, the Paul campaign decided early on that it would essentially be a hub for whatever networks the organizers were setting up. The results were mixed. On the one hand, volunteers organized successful “money bombs”–one-day online fund-raising frenzies (the one on November 5, 2007, netted Paul $4.3 million). But sometimes the volunteers’ energy–and money–was wasted, says Justine Lam, the Paul campaign’s Internet director, who is now the online marketing director at Politicker.com. Consider the supporter-driven effort to hire a blimp emblazoned with “Who is Ron Paul? Google Ron Paul” to cruise up and down the East Coast last winter. “We saw all this money funding a blimp, and thought, ‘We really need this money for commercials,’” Lam says.
Then there is McCain, who–somewhat ironically–was the big Internet story of 2000. That year, after his New Hampshire primary victory over George W. Bush, he quickly raised $1 million online. And at times last year, he made effective use of the Internet. His staff made videos–such as “Man in the Arena,” celebrating his wartime service–that gained popularity on YouTube. But the McCain site is ineffectual for social networking. In late June, when I tried to sign up on McCainSpace–the analogue to MyBO–I got error messages. When I tried again, I was informed that I would soon get a new password in my in-box. It never arrived. “His social-networking site was poorly done, and people found there was nothing to do on it,” says Lam. “It was very insular, a walled garden. You don’t want to keep people inside your walled garden; you want them to spread the message to new people.”