The Geekiest Candidate

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

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Presidential campaign regulations have also played a significant role in shaping the Ron Paul online fundraising juggernaut. The Federal Election Commission has strict regulations prohibiting campaign organizers from giving instructions to supporters on what they should do to help the campaign. As a result, Lam and other members of the campaign team settled on a strategy of suggesting to devotees that they effectively develop their own independent campaign strategies in support of Paul.

The strategy "ricocheted through the Web and has allowed people to take ownership of the campaign instead of the campaign telling them what to do," says Lam, who previously managed webcast lectures for the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.

The community-driven online fundraising strategy has worked brilliantly and has distanced the Paul e-campaign from the rest, say Rasiej and other pundits. "Ron Paul is probably the best example" of a presidential candidate who's made the most effective use of grass-roots e-mail and blogging, says Karen Jagoda, president of the E-Voter Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

And it's not just about spreading Paul's message via text, says Julie Germany, deputy director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University in Washington. His supporters' use of social media to post video clips about Paul on YouTube and other sites "has been incredible," she adds. For example, the YouTube video on RonPaulMoneyBomb.com may be one of the most effective political videos in years. And, of course, Paul is the subject of that groundbreaking dorm room interview conducted by college student James Kotecki.

The strategy appears to be working, at least from the standpoint of online attention. According to Hitwise Pty., an online measurement service based in New York, Paul attracted nearly 38% of Web traffic among all main candidates in the third week of December, trailed by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, with over 16%. Obama came in third with just under 11%.

Although candidates such as Clinton have raised far more than Paul overall (Clinton's most recent FEC filing, on Nov. 21, shows that she has netted more than $45 million), Paul's community fundraising approach generated more than $19.5 million for the fourth quarter of 2007, easily outpacing all of the other candidates in terms of online fundraising, says Rasiej.

The numbers speak to the effectiveness and efficiency of Paul's online fundraising efforts. For example, both Paul and McCain each raised about $5 million during a Novermber fundraising cycle. But Paul did so while attending just 82 events while McCain made more than 500 appearances, says Rasiej.

Runners Up

John Edwards

John Edwards Among the runners up, perhaps the most real-time candidate at the moment is Edwards, thanks in large part to his e-campaign's groundbreaking use of Twitter Inc.'s instant messaging/social networking service.

Twitter is a free social networking service that enables people to communicate with friends or colleagues using SMS, instant messaging, e-mail or other applications. The service includes a feature that allows users to send a short update to the site (140 characters or less) via "micro-blogging," and Edwards has been known to use it to let people know where he is on the campaign trail and what he's doing.

These up-to-the-minute updates are new in campaigns but not in the lives of the youngest voters, says Christopher Malone, associate professor of political science at Pace University in New York. Edwards "is appealing to a younger crowd through the technological means that younger people are familiar with," he says.

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