The interesting question, though, is what a successful Internet campaign would look like. Dean showed how the Net can take an obscure candidate and vault him to the head of the pack. What would a real Internet campaign by an establishment figure like John Kerry — or George W. Bush — look like? We'll see beta versions this fall, but they will almost certainly be copies of Dean's techniques rather than real innovations.
I have a hunch that the first Internet campaign to truly mobilize voters on a mass scale (as opposed to fundraising and core supporters) won't start around a candidate. One of the key, and under-appreciated, elements of Dean's early success was MoveOn.org. MoveOn never actually endorsed Dean, but its tactics and worldview were aligned with the Dean campaign. Its early online poll was the first demonstration of Dean's “front-runner” status. MoveOn, thanks to help from friends like George Soros, will be significant player in the Fall campaign. Yet MoveOn wasn't started to elect a President; it was started to defend a President (Clinton) against impeachment efforts.
What mot people really support are causes, not candidates. The cause many Dean supporters were passionate about was defeating President Bush, and that ultimately came back to haunt Howard Dean in the form of “electability.” The power of the Net in politics, as Clay and others have eloquently written, is its ability to lower coordination barriers among large numbers of people. Thus, it's most effective where people already support a cause.
It's hard to remember now, but back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were two such causes: health care reform and deficit reduction. The health care debate was co-opted by the traditional players, but on the deficit side, the Concord Coalition did an amazing job of mobilizing popular anger, largely among young people, about the ruinous course of our fiscal policies. And they did it without any of the Internet-based tools groups like MoveOn are exploiting today.
So yes, we've seen the last Internet campaign, but not the first Internet President. That will have to wait for a movement that starts outside the existing political boxes, and a candidate able to make the most of it. [Werblog]