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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"We want to have as many people as possible exposed to John Edwards' message, follow him online and sign up to support the campaign," says Aaron Myers, director of the campaign's Internet strategy in Chapel Hill, N.C. Toward that end, a videographer travels with Edwards, and videos shot on the campaign trail have scored hundreds of thousands of visits on YouTube. "It gives us an opportunity to reach folks who might not be seeking political news or news about John Edwards in general," says Myers.

Whether the use of Twitter and other Web 2.0 tools will ultimately make the difference for Edwards remains to be seen, says Malone. But meanwhile, he says, "it's helping him to stay in the ballgame."

The 'Money Bomb'

The watershed moment for Paul's online fundraising efforts was the "Ron Paul Money Bomb" of Nov. 5, when the campaign set a one-day record for contributions. "We've never seen anything like it," says Lam. "We raised $4.2 million that day under a completely supporter-driven 'money bomb.' No one has ever done that."

"We've never seen anything like it," says Lam. "We raised $4.2 million that day under a completely supporter-driven money bomb. No one has ever done that," she says.

Then on Dec 16, Paul upped the ante, raising an astounding $6 million.

The most that former Vermont governor Howard Dean amassed in a single day of online contributions during his 2004 presidential run was $500,000, Lam says.

Dean's campaign was also very much community-fed and Internet-driven. But back then, Dean's campaign organizers held frequent Meetup.com telephone conferences with supporters, which included weekly to-do lists for backers, says Lam.

Not Paul's people. "We might have a webconference once in a while to tell supporters what we're doing in the campaign [headquarters], but we don't tell them what to do," says Lam.

One of the truisms in Internet politics is that it's easier for "edge" candidates like Paul to catch fire online with would-be voters than it is for more mainstream politicians such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, says John Palfrey, executive director of the The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. That's because campaigns with smaller budgets and smaller support bases "are more willing to take the risk of using the Internet in experimental ways," says Palfrey.

"Ron Paul is running a very online-focused campaign," says Palfrey, "and he's becoming [more] relevant as a result."

But it's yet to be seen if Paul's online savvy will be enough to keep him in the race. "You still need a labor-intensive campaign to get the vote out," notes Malone. "For all of Howard Dean's Internet pioneering, he didn't have enough feet on the street to pull the vote out for him in Iowa."

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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