The Cycle

Online experts discuss 2008 race

Online strategists for several of the 2008 presidential candidates – Republican, mostly – shared their thoughts about the importance of Web sites and online outreach to their overall campaigns during a panel discussion at the National Press Club in DC last week.

Hosted by Politico and Waggener Edstrom, the panel included representatives from the Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, and Biden campaigns. The Clinton and Obama campaigns were noticeably absent given their sophisticated online operations, though Macon Philips, director of Blue State Digital’s strategy and communications practice, helped discuss online outreach from the Democratic perspective.

Eric Carbone, director of online communications with Biden, had some of the most interesting comments. Having previously worked with the Gen. Wesley Clark campaign in 2003-2004, Carbone noted how significantly the use of online video has grown in the last four years, along with the use of social networks: “In 2004 we worried about one Web site; now we worry about dozens,” he said.

Carbone also noted that text messaging is a medium for political communication that, despite most everyone in the country now in possession of a cell phone, has yet to be used effectively to organize supporters or otherwise rally people to a particular candidate and his or her message.

Mindy Finn, director of e-Strategy for Romney, noted that the ever declining cost of technology means campaigns can do much more these days with less money, so that limited budgets are less likely to affect online outreach as they might have in previous election cycles. Online campaigns shouldn’t try to do everything, though, and instead focus on the strengths of the candidate.

In the case of the Romney site, the focus has been on video, to showcase what the campaign considers Romney’s great camera presence and to introduce the still relatively unknown candidate to a national audience, Finn said.

The panel moderators, Jim VanderHei and Ben Smith of the Politico, appeared particularly interested in comparing the relative sophistication of the Republican and Democratic candidates in organizing and gathering support online, with the Republican strategists on the panel conceding that Democrats generally have had more success online, but arguing that the Republican nominee, whoever that may be, will have plenty of time to catch up.

See also Ben Smith’s writeup of the event and as well as Waggener Edstrom’s Webcast.

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