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A Nomination Won Online

By Tom Watson on August 29, 2008No Comment

When Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for President on Thursday night, he capped a long and inspiring campaign that set records for fundraising and personal involvement – and he also put the exclamation point on the first national campaign where the winner was determined online.

The numbers simply don’t lie – by any of the metrics tracked by the excellent techPresident website, Obama ‘08 was a well-orchestrated online campaign, a wide-ranging cause that got many millions involved in some way via the network of networks. Patrick Ruffini, perhaps the best Republican analyst working at the confluence of technology and politics, doesn’t hedge a bit in his excellent essay today:

Most of the commentary on the historicity of the Obama nomination has focused on the first African American to win a major party nomination, but Obama’s win also signals a shift in the way that campaigns are waged. The broadcast era is ending, and the era of networked politics is beginning.

Without the ‘net, Obama couldn’t have won the nomination. We could say that about a great many things given the closeness of the primary race, but in many ways all the other explanations flow from it to a great extent. Obama’s celebrity — which remains the central fact of the race today — was cultivated online with things like the will.i.am video. The resources to wage aggressive campaigns in the post-Feb. 5 caucus states came from the Internet. The Internet was not a shiny toy or a silver bullet. It was the platform on which the Obama campaign’s arsenal of silver bullets was minted.

I agree with that analysis; the Internet was central to Obama’s primary campaign – it wasn’t an add-on or a feature or a gimmick. Obama became such a cause online because his team lived and worked and breathed (or so it seems) there. Ruffini roots against Obama, but he recognizes strategic brilliance when he sees it:

I have been constantly impressed at the Obama campaign’s willingness to execute on this higher strategic plain. The normal announcement of candidacy is reserved for local media hits and press. Vanilla. Traditional. Static. Old. Obama led the way in launching his campaign on its first day online.

Now, what worked in the long primary campaign may not work as well in the shorter general election sprint. The txt announcement of Joe Biden as Obama’s safe-choice VP fell flat and suffered from massive delivery glitches. It came across as a gimmick. I suspect the campaign’s use of online video, however, will remain a central focus – it’s hard-hitting, totally viral, and built to convince (or rattle) people easily.

In any case, it will be fascinating to track the wired portion of the campaigning from here on out.

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