Friday, February 20, 2004

John Edwards blog: A message to Dean supporters

Many of you have written me requesting we add a bat to raise money for this campaign. We are listening.

But we want to take this a step further. We want to know how much YOU think we should raise. Ask your fellow Dean supporters, bring them here, and tell us what the goal should be.

4:22:10 PM    comment []

Political organizing online: Here's a flier and calendar entry for a White Power rally tomorrow in Raleigh. The NC chapter of the sponsoring party has a Greensboro address.

While that's going on, Sydney and I will be at a Blue Power rally in Chapel Hill.

2:03:26 PM    comment []

The article on the Edwards web is an exclusive...but it's still a collaborative effort, in that  I went to Raleigh on work time, with the blessing of my editor, and I hope to turn out an opinion piece for Baseline, too...and, starting with Dean and continuing through two recent trips to O'Reilly events in California, the Mad Genius has been entirely supportive of my blog research and blogging as ways to keep the story of Internet politics brewing...he gets it in a way few traditional editors do, yet....the Edwards piece was not edited, or copy-edited, by anyone but me...its errors are mine alone...but I want to give credit where it's due, and acknowledge the unusual, hybrid position I'm fortunate to occupy.

8:17:01 AM    comment []

The medium is not the message in the John Edwards presidential campaign.

“I’m happy to call what we do a support service,” says Aaron Myers, director of Internet operations for the Edwards campaign. “It drives interest in the candidate, and supports people across country. The Edwards campaign is about John Edwards. Everything we do online and offline and in the field is to introduce people to John Edwards.” 

Yesterday I visited with Myers and Chris Winn, the campaign’s Internet community coordinator, at Edwards HQ in Raleigh – the first time the campaign has opened up for a look at its online effort. We spoke for about an hour and a half, with no media handlers present. “They trust us,” said, Myers, a political veteran at age 25, who moved the conversation smoothly on and off the record.

Nick Baldick, Edwards’ campaign manager, says the Net is integral to the campaign, in terms of fundraising ($450,000 in the day ending Thursday morning, with an average contribution of $79.82), communication, and organization. ““There is not a department in this campaign that does not rely on the blog, the web page or email,” he says. “They helped push out our message directly to supporters when the media was not paying attention…We’re learning now what a great organizing tool in can be.” Myers is a senior staffer, reporting directly to Baldick.

But there is no sense here of a revolution, or a movement in which the Internet takes on a mystique of its own. The rhetoric of transformation I heard at Dean headquarters, of power pushed to the edges to create a new type of campaign, is lacking. The candidate, not the online tools, generates the buzz.

Still, this is not campaigning as usual, says Myers, who worked previously on campaigns for Al Gore and Tom Harkin. “Things are totally different now from 2000,” he says. “The biggest difference between this year and four years ago is the number of people acting independently, out somebody’s garage, supporting the candidate. That’s exploded.”

Myers continued: “People are not just running sites, but organizing. Educators, nurses…they can contact us, our policy people, and have an open dialog, that was not possible in 2000. I got a call this morning from someone working on ‘educators for Edwards’ stuff—I’ll make sure they get to talk to our policy people. Now, the Net is looked at differently. You don’t need to file as a committee, anybody can publish a broadside.”

The campaign did not exactly rush onto the Net, to the dismay of some potential supporters. Chris Winn became only the second paid employee on the Internet staff when he was hired in August. There are now three fulltime Internet employees, including Myers and Winn, plus a volunteer who works on multimedia content, and an intern. Myers says that while the campaign is managed frugally, he has gotten what he needs in terms of hardware and bandwidth.

Winn, 20, would be a sophomore at Penn State if he wasn’t running the blog and other online community functions. An Edwards fan since seeing the Senator on C-Span in middle school, he joined the campaign as an intern in April, when, after filling out the application form, he decided to drive it down instead of mailing it. “It could have gotten lost,” he deadpans, so he and his mom hopped in the car. Myers says he had to meet the guy who showed up at the front desk unannounced: “It would have been ridiculous for him to just go home.”

Edwards recently topped the 10,000 mark in Meetup registrations, up five-fold in the last few months, but still well behind John Kerry’s nearly 50,000 Meetup registrants. Myers says he was impressed by Meetup when he first learned of it a year ago, but was ultimately driven to advocate for the service seriously when he saw how it worked for his rivals. “What pushed us there is that it worked for other people,” he says. Letter-writing and phone calls, coordinated online, have been valuable volunteer activities. Volunteers use the web to communicate with each other, says Winn, doing things like alerting the community to negative stories in newspapers, and coordinating responses to media coverage.

Volunteers have also helped build the campaign’s online arsenal, creating tools that facilitate local meetings between supporters, for example. The connection between staff and volunteers is tight. Myers talks to key volunteers like Mike Kasper on “a pretty regular basis,” he says. “I go days without seeing what he’s working on, then I’m amazed to see what he puts together. He’s been included in every major change we’ve made.”

Last year, Elizabeth (Mrs. John) Edwards pointed to an example of the campaign listening to ideas from its online supporters. Winn says that two-way relationship is real. “It’s not an echo chamber. They know we listen to them – and the supporters online bring it offline.”

The relationship of online and offline worlds goes both ways. There is not a wall between the virtual campaign and the physical one -- a critical element to the success of the Edwards effort. Events in meatspace drive traffic to the website – an important consideration as campaigns reach out beyond hard-core early supporters to less tech-savvy voters, hoping to draw them to the blog and website. An endorsement of Edwards by the Des Moines Register caused traffic and email to “skyrocket,” says Myers. “Donations from people not on our email list went through the roof. People were paying attention. Fundraising jumps when people get excited, and it’s hard to manufacture excitement .”

Edwards’ strong showing in Iowa caused a boom on the blog, says Winn. “It was a whole different world,” he says. Big days in South Carolina and, most recently, Wisconsin, continued that trend. On Wednesday, the blog drew about 5,500 comments. The most-visited page on the entire website: the biography of John Edwards.

The site is built on Slash, the open-source software that powers Slashdot. “It’s worked out great, because we can customize it, and grow with it,” says Winn. He reads other blogs as part of his job, and reports on them to Myers, who says he has little time to check out the Web – even competitors’ sites.

Should Edwards make it to the general election, Myers, who says he has spoken with technology staffers in other Democratic campaigns, promises to explore more Internet tools. Which ones? He’s not saying. But it seems that the Edwards web, like the candidate himself, has some momentum.

8:04:43 AM    comment []