If you were to catch former Senator George Allen (R-VA) in a moment of candor, and you asked him to name the one factor that was responsible for bringing down his campaign for reelection to the U.S. Senate last fall, he might very well tell you that it was YouTube. Yes, as a Republican, he was up against a hostile national mood; and his opponent, now-Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), was a moderate Democrat, a prolific author, and a decorated Vietnam War veteran with a lot of ideas about how to set the war in Iraq back on course. But perhaps if it hadn't been for Allen's infamous—and, thanks to YouTube, ubiquitous—so-called "macaca" remarks, which were taken as evidence that the senator was less-than-sensitive to racial minorities, he might have been able to hold on to his seat.
YouTube, social networking sites like MySpace, and the internet in general have become significant factors that must be taken into account by any political campaign with designs on electoral success. TechPresident is a blog that was created in early 2007 with the aim of covering the web's effect on the 2008 presidential campaign.
"The 2008 election will be the first where the internet will play a central role, not only in terms of how the campaigns use technology, but also how voter-generated content affects its course," says Andrew Rasiej, techPresident's founder and publisher. "TechPresident.com will cover everything from campaign websites, online advertising, and email lists to the postings on YouTube and who's got the fastest growing group of friends on MySpace and Facebook."
The blog is an offshoot of Rasiej's Personal Democracy Forum (PDF), an online forum that styles itself as "one hub for the conversation already underway between political practitioners and technologists, as well as anyone invigorated by the potential of all this to open up the process and engage more people in all the things that we can and must do together as citizens." The techPresident blog examines in real time the ways in which those Web 2.0 principles of openness and direct engagement are being implemented by presidential campaigns and what effects they are having on the 2008 presidential election.
One of techPresident's strong suits is its compilation of readily accessible statistics. In a bar across the top of the site are tabs for "Flickr feeds," "MySpace friends," "YouTube stats," "Technorati tracks," and "Eventful demands." Clicking on these tabs directs readers to pages with charts illustrating, for instance, how many times Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) has been mentioned in blog posts during a particular week.
One trend that is immediately apparent from this collection of charts is that, to date, the Democratic presidential candidates have left a significantly larger footprint online than their Republican counterparts. On the techPresident chart that tracks Eventful demands—requests for appearances by candidates on the event-database site Eventful.com—demands for Democrats are measured in thousands while demands for Republicans are measured in increments of ten. Also readily apparent: Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) wins hands-down on every metric. In mid-March, he had upwards of 66,000 MySpace friends. His nearest competitor, Senator Clinton, had slightly more than 29,000 (and the most-friended Republican, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, had a few more than 4,000).
The blog component of techPresident features a stable of writers and experts with a wide range of experiences. "Our team of bloggers is made of veterans of the 2004 and 2006 elections, ranging across the political spectrum," says Micah L. Sifry, PDF's editor. "Their expertise covers everything from website design to the latest in mobile tools and social networking sites." Bloggers include video-blogging pioneer Steve Garfield; Zephyr Teachout, the internet director for former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's 2004 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination; and Mindy Finn, the internet director for former Senator Rick Santorum's (R-PA) 2006 reelection campaign.
With more than a year and a half until the 2008 election actually takes place, it may seem a bit early to be analyzing the race from any angle, technological or otherwise. But then again, maybe it's the internet, with its 24-hour news cycle and instantly available information, that has brought this elongated political season upon us. If it is, they're sure to be blogging about it on techPresident.