BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week, two polls put former Vermont Governor Howard Dean in a dead heat or slightly ahead of fellow Democratic presidential contender John Kerry in New Hampshire. The Bennington Banner says there's so much interest in Dean's record as governor that Vermont is considering adding staff to the state archives. Dean and his weblog have set records for fundraising and sped his rise from insurgent to frontrunner. Now pundits have announced the dawn of the Internet Age in politics several times before, but as OTM's Raquel Maria Dillon reports, maybe, just maybe the internet and the political world are finally ready for each other.
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: The Dean campaign's latest on line fundraising push pitted dean donors against Dick Cheney donors. The vice president was heading to a big fundraiser where he was expected to raise at least 250,000 at a 2,000 dollar a plate luncheon. So Dean's web-savvy political strategists decided to challenge Dean's supporters to do the same through smaller donations on line. Dean won by a landslide, raking in 500,000 dollars by Monday.
JOE TRIPPI: We set out from the very beginning to use every tool available to us. We've said repeatedly that we are the great grassroots campaign of the modern era.
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: Howard Dean's campaign manager Joe Trippi says he knew all along he wanted to have a campaign web log devoted to Howard Dean. Called BlogforAmerica.com it offers more than you would ever want to know about Dean and his campaign. But staffers say it's also a two-way street.
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: I'd say 90 percent of what we do on line and off line in terms of organizing comes from ideas that local supporters have had.
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: Zephyr Teachout is in charge of internet organizing for the campaign.
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Almost all our flyers come from flyers that people themselves have made up. So they send us a copy of their flyer. We look over it. We put our own legal requirements on it, and then we make it available for download. So there's this constant internet process where people are making suggestions, refining campaigning ideas, talking with us about them and talking through the blog.
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: Teachout counts over 400 independent Dean e-mail mailing lists plus a couple dozen web sites. There's BrooklynforDean, HawaiiforDean, NursesforDean and VeteransforDean. The campaign says more than 83,000 people have donated so far with an average donation of 88 dollars. Dean topped the other Democratic candidates in fundraising in the second quarter.
MARKOS MOULITSAS ZUNIGA: And the beauty is that once they donate money, all these small donors, even if it's ten dollars, once they donate, they are personally vested in that campaign. They will do everything in their power to make sure that their investment pays off.
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: Markos Moulitsas Zuniga consults for the Dean campaign and the Draft Wesley Clark movement and has his own blog. He says Dean's virtual organization builds crowds and energy at real campaign events.
MARKOS MOULITSAS ZUNIGA: Yeah. The other candidates are still walking into diners in Iowa and New Hampshire, shaking hands with people eating their breakfast when Dean is doing speeches where thousands of people show up just to hear him speak. So I mean this is a whole new game.
LEE RAINEY: This is sort of standard marketing!
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: Lee Rainey is director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
LEE RAINEY: These are just some new tools that anybody who's interested in selling an idea or selling a product or selling a service can use. Politicians are always playing catch up on this front.
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: But while the Dean campaign is using its blog to sell a candidate, other blogs are sizing up all of the political products currently on the market. Because blogs are repositories for stray facts, opinions and impressions, they paint vivid pictures of political campaigns. Mickey Kaus who writes the Kaus Files blog for the online magazine Slate says blogs offer new insights into a candidate's character.
MICKEY KAUS: If you're a jerk in your personal life, that will come out much more quickly than before. You, you can't hush it up any more, cause you know the valet who you stiff will have a blog. [LAUGHS] Okay? And he's going to somehow get his story out, and if you do it enough times, you're going to get a rep.
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: Blogs offer people across the country the same up-close, personal look at the candidates once enjoyed only by residents of New Hampshire and Iowa, and the internet continues to accelerate the break-neck pace of campaigning. Not that long ago a campaign could claim victory if their message dominated the nightly newscasts. Now, it's a moment to moment news cycle. Kaus says the political system has been slow to adjust.
MICKEY KAUS: So we have a, you know, a 19th Century primary schedule on a 21st Century election information mechanism, and the two clash, which is why the campaign seems endless. We could have the whole thing over in two months with all the different primaries and, and everything, and the voters wouldn't feel that they were being rushed.
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: That shotgun political campaign is already a reality in California where a recall election could unseat Governor Gray Davis. The date is set: October 7th -- just over two months away. There are lots of potential candidates to keep track of; important court decisions; rumor and gossip. It's a campaign custom made for an experienced political reporter who's also a webbloger -- someone like Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub, the author of the California Insider webblog.
DANIEL WEINTRAUB: So instead of just waiting till the morning and posting our newspaper on the internet, I'm actually out there supplementing the column throughout the day, posting things for my readers that they otherwise might not learn about until later.
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON: A few weeks ago, Weintraub scooped his own paper when he broke news about the recall on line first. He reported that the California Secretary of State had delayed signature counting and compared him to his counterpart in Florida, Katherine Harris. He says his editors don't mind because they understand the importance of the new medium. It was only a few years ago that Bob Dole launched one of the first national campaign web sites, and it was only after the most recent New Hampshire primary that John McCain became the first candidate to rake in significant cash on line. Even if Howard Dean's momentum doesn't carry him all the way through November 2004, he's already become a first -- the first presidential candidate to see the internet as a community instead of a bulletin board, and the first to use that community to achieve frontrunner status in record time. For On the Media, I'm Raquel Maria Dillon in Concord, New Hampshire.