WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- When former Vice President Al Gore wanted to blast George W. Bush on Iraq he chose a forum of the MoveOn.org organization to do it.
And when Democratic presidential hopefuls obsessed on savaging each other in the run up to the hotly contested Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary early next year, it was MoveOn.org that paid out $175,000 to hammer the president over the 2 million jobs lost during his presidency with an ad blitz in Washington and in 15 other cities in sing presidential states over the past week.
Suddenly MoveOn.org is everywhere. And as Gore's choice of its venue to delivering his blistering Nov. 9 attack on Bush shows -- in a development that may come to signal his eventual availability as a "stop Howard Dean" candidate for the Democratic right -- the upstart Web-based Internet organization has suddenly become the market place for aspiring Democratic national leaders to hawk their wares and reach out to the party grass roots.
It is quite a leap for a group that was founded half a decade ago. But MoveOn.org, started in 1998 by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, has come a long way fast by flouting conventional wisdom and making visionary leaps that so far have paid off amazingly often.
The group seeks to revive liberal fortunes by marrying middle-class, baby-boom yuppie frustration, and even horror, at the repeated political triumphs of President George W. Bush and the conservative Republicans with the wonders of Internet technology and it has swept the high-tech, suburban middle-class Web-surfers like a tidal wave.
Even before the extraordinary success of Vermont former governor Howard Dean's Internet drive for activists and funds had put MoveOn.org and its Internet reach firmly on the political map, the organization already claimed a network of 1.4 million activists around the United States with another 700,000 wired in from around the world.
By last June, it had raised $6.5 million for candidates it supported and its leaders remain confident they can double that amount in the current election cycle.
Advocacy and political activist groups routinely put optimistic spins on their membership, and Internet-generated statistics are particularly easy to massage. But there is good reason to believe MoveOn.org's figures are true. Because it is already showing its muscle in the area of politics that professionals respect the most: raising money.
Within two days of launching a "Defend Democracy" campaign in Texas in mid-August, MoveOn.org reported it had raised $790,000, a phenomenally fast start to any such grass-roots campaign.
Now compared with the quarter-of-a-billion-dollar war chest that Bush is methodically raising for his re-election campaign that appears to be still pocket change. But MoveOn.org's soaring national visibility and exponential growth has Republican strategists concerned. This is especially the case as the group has linked up with the almost limitless deep pockets of billionaire financier George Soros.
Soros, who is loudly and repeatedly expressing his determination to help drive Bush out of office, announced in mid-November, along with Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis, that they would match contributions to MoveOn.org's Bush-basing ads on job losses in the targeted cities.
That campaign could prove to be the prototype for many more. MoveOn.org organizers are looking at a $10 million ad campaign on those lines over the next year's run up to the presidential vote. It could go as high as $15 million, thanks to the Soros-Lewis matching funds.
So far, the activist revolution that MoveOn.org and Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi have spearheaded has transformed the conduct of primary elections, but that is still far from proving it can have a significant, let alone pivotal impact on national campaigns.
As Noam Scheiber wrote in a recent New Republic Trippi profile, "Unlike the primary, where the goal is to win over one or two million - partisans, winning a general election requires something on the order of 50 million votes - mainly from the vast political center. Take the most successful Internet operation in history, raise it to an order of magnitude, and still you don't come anywhere near the number of votes you need."
This, of course, is true. To win a national presidential election one needs an awful lot more than an enthusiastic, well-connected and motivated activist core. But MoveOn.org is not just a single straw in the wind. It is part of a wide, still diffuse but very striking middle-class, high-tech organizational renaissance on the political left.
The movement also includes Trippi's organizational and fund-raising achievements for Dean using the Meetup.com forum, Soros' involvement and the adventurous experiments in voter mobilization from voter outreach organizations, or 527s that have sprung up on the Democratic side of politics since the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law passed.
MoveOn.org has made itself as essential to the Democrats' national political discourse as any major newspaper or TV network. That is a long way to have come so fast. They are likely to go a lot further yet.