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The Geekiest Candidate

Other presidential hopefuls may be further ahead in the polls, but Ron Paul has the standout e-campaign.

By Thomas Hoffman
January 7, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Pop quiz: Who is the first presidential candidate ever to be interviewed by a college student in his dorm room, with the video posted on YouTube?

The answer is Republican longshot Ron Paul, who is waging one of the most dynamic but least-managed e-campaigns in the 2008 race.

The Texas Congressman's e-fundraising efforts are as unconventional as his use of media. Unlike other presidential wannabes, who rely on e-mail blasts to would-be supporters, Paul has been building his war chest by allowing his backers to drive much of the campaign themselves.

The Paul campaign has taken a bottom-up, community-oriented approach to online fundraising "so that as donations come in, the information about who's donating [and how much has been raised] is made available to everybody" on the campaign's home page, says Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of TechPresident.com, a New York-based group blog that covers how the 2008 presidential candidates are using the Web and how content generated by voters is affecting the campaign.

And it's not just about fundraising. On Meetup.com, a site that facilitates grass-roots alliances of all kinds, Ron Paul has the most "meetup" groups -- real-world get-togethers of people who share common interests and find one another on Meetup.com -- of any candidate, with 1,355. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee appears to be in second place, with 261.

Other presidential campaigns are also leveraging the Web to build community and gain support. The Web page of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) invites voters to create their own blogs on the site. And the campaign has embraced the Facebook social networking culture. "A lot of [Obama] supporters are connecting on Facebook and MySpace, so the campaign has created tools to update information on the Facebook platform," says Rasiej.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is a heavy user of Twitter, an instant messaging/social networking service that brings a real time feel to his campaign.

And the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has created its own online community on the Web site called McCainSpace, where supporters can build their own Web pages on the site, then blog or send e-mails to friends or other potential supporters.

Bottom Up

But Paul's campaign has taken a highly decentralized, bottom-up approach that's aimed at building a community of support while saving the organization money on IT overhead.

"Our strategy is shaped by the need to be frugal with money," says Justine Lam, Rep. Paul's e-campaign director in Arlington, Va. When Lam first began crafting Paul's e-strategy in March 2007, the campaign had a total of just $500,000 to work with. "We knew we couldn't run the same kind of campaign that [Mitt] Romney or [John] McCain could with the money they had," says Lam, a newbie to the political battlefields and the second person to join Paul's campaign staff. So thrift was the watchword when it came to campaigning online. For example, instead of hosting Ron Paul videos on his campaign Web site and chewing up valuable network bandwidth, Lam has uploaded his speeches and other video content onto YouTube.



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