Dean’s online success

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(Host) Howard Dean’s presidential campaign has become an Internet cash machine. Dean raised $7.5 million in the last three months. About $3 million was collected online in the last week of June. The fundraising success stems from a number of factors, including a loyal core of young supporters, and the campaign’s skillful use of technology.

VPR’s John Dillon takes a look at the reasons behind Dean’s online offensive:

(Dillon) The numbers tell the story of Dean’s fundraising success. In the last three months, more than 45,000 people used the Internet to send money to the former Vermont governor. Some clicked on more than once, because the online donors gave a total of 51,474 times. The average donation was around $74. Almost $800,000 poured in on the last day alone.

(Peter Welch) “Who said the Internet bubble burst? Dean has proven it’s alive and well.”

(Dillon) Windsor County Democratic Senator Peter Welch is a Dean ally who has followed the candidate’s career for years. He says Dean succeeded because he combined both the medium and the message.

He says Dean has galvanized supporters with his blunt criticism of President Bush. According to Welch, the message struck a chord with young voters, who are comfortable with Internet organizing. And, Welch says, Dean got a tremendous boost from an Internet poll conducted last week by the online advocacy group,

(Welch) “And what they did tactically in the campaign, which is brilliant, is they changed the first primary from Iowa and New Hampshire to the Internet and the poll. And they’ve translated that into visible support both in the form of money, astonishing money, and volunteers. So he’s transformed the nature of the campaign.”

(Dillon) Dean got 44% of the 318,000 votes cast in the poll, more than twice as many as his closest rival.

But long before the online poll, Dean was the dominant cyberspace candidate. A study by George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet shows Dean has spawned at least 293 online discussion groups. That’s more than the eight other Democratic candidates combined. The Dean campaign has also inspired 44 separate volunteer Web sites, as well as numerous blogs. These are free form Web logs, or online daily journals. One Dean blogger even put the candidate’s words to a driving musical beat. (Sound of song, “Disco Dean.”)

Of course, Dean’s fundraising trails far behind President Bush, who collected $34 million in the second quarter. Yet Bush got only $700,000 online, less than Dean gathered in one day from the Internet.

Brown University political science professor Daryl West says Dean has found a very cheap way to raise money.

(West) “The wonderful thing about the Internet is that you can raise money virtually free. With any other fundraising avenue you have to spend a lot in order to raise the money, either through direct mail which is very expensive or by having fundraising dinners, which also are big productions and require a substantial staff in order to organize them.”

(Dillon) Although every campaign has a Web presence, West says Dean’s is much better organized.

(West) “I think Dean has a real advantage on the Internet, because he’s figured out not just how to reach people through the Internet, but to use email and video conferencing facilities online. So he’s really using technology in a much more creative way than any of the other presidential candidates.”

(Dillon) The Web sites and daily blogs have another advantage as well. They allow the candidate to by-pass traditional political reporting, and reach voters directly with campaign news.

The campaign’s Internet organizing continues. On Wednesday night, about 53,000 Dean supporters met across the country to plan their next steps. The hundreds of meetings were all planned online.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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