In 2005-06, many, many months before the first votes are to be cast for president, a thriving ecosystem of websites promoting, criticizing, or at least following the activities of individual 2008 presidential prospects developed.
Some of these were little more than digital brochures, with no interactivity or updating.
More active sites were somewhat akin to fan clubs or sought to build more serious communities of supporters. The RussforPresident.com site aimed to "generate support and enthusiasm for making Russ Feingold the next President of the United States." The America for Richardson site was "growing the netroots for Bill Richardson, President 2008." On the Republican side, Americans for Mitt had five key goals: "to encourage Mitt Romney to run for President; to educate Americans about Mitt Romney; to build a strong network of Mitt supporters throughout the country; to help Mitt secure the Republican nomination for President in 2008 and to achieve victory in the general election; and to encourage the formation of statewide organizations to support Mitt for President." The McCain Movement site sought "to become the center of the online McCain community, acting as a hub for interaction between McCain fans and a center of McCain news; we also aim to become the primary grassroots organizing center of the McCain in 2008 movement."
The potential candidates who seemed to inspire the most independent activity in 2005-06 included on the Democratic side Sen. Feingold (D-WI), former Gov. Warner (D-VA), former Vice President Gore, and, in just the last couple of months of 2006, Sen. Obama (D-IL). On the Republican side supporters of Gov. Romney (R-MA) and Sen. McCain (R-AZ) seemed most active. Others including Sens. Biden (D-DE), Dodd (D-CT) and Frist (R-TN) and Gov. Pataki (R-NY) apparently did not inspire any supporters to build web sites.
After starting small a site may build support and grow, at which point its principals may opt to adopt a more organized approach, filing with the FEC and forming political action committee or a 527 so they can raise money and undertake more far-reaching activities. One of the most basic activities is to set up an informational tables at a partisan event. Some of the groups developed networks of state coordinators. Americans for Dr. Rice ("dedicated to drafting Dr. Rice President in 2008") ran TV and radio spots. At one point VoteHillary.org proposed to put up a billboard near the Des Moines Airport. Petitions are also popular.
A somewhat different type of activity is the blog, and there are numerous blogs run by one or several individuals in support of or opposition to possible candidates. Depending on the blogger, these are updated more or less frequently with news and comment. Blogs range from derivative and thin, merely pointing to or reprinting occasional articles, to thought-provoking and original, showing evidence of much attention and dedication. Some blogs wither after a few months or even a few entries as their authors get caught up in other activities.
Web sites and blogs may have a national scope and focus or a narrower state specific or group specific (for example "students for..." or "law students for...") focus.
Not all is positive; there are the individuals who feel the need to make the case against one or another of the possible candidates. The Anti-Sam Brownback Blog is "Dedicated to the Savaging of Senator Sam Brownback." Criticism can also be done with a touch of humor through parody or satire sites; none of these have appeared as of yet.
Other forms of online community include the Yahoo discussion groups, MySpace pages and Facebook pages. For example on Dec. 20, 2008, when there was significant buzz about Sen. Barack Obama as a possible Democratic candidate, Obama's MySpace page showed a tally of 21,798 friends.
Absence of independent activity in this early pre-campaign phase could be, although is not necessarily, an indicator that a candidacy may not fare well. For example, several presidential prospects had active discussion areas on their official political websites (leadership PAC or re-election campaign) that lessened the need for outside activity.
If and when a potential candidate
becomes a declared candidate, the online communities formed over these
many months can provide a boost in the early stages of the campaign, although
ultimately the individual's performance as a candidate will be the telling
|Copyright © 2006 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action||