A weekly UPI series examining the global telecommunications phenomenon known as the World Wide Web.
CHICAGO, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Howard Dean won a virtual primary online last summer, but the maverick politician did not fare so well in Monday's real-world Iowa caucuses.
Pundits and online technology consultants say that was because the demographics of the Internet are quite different than those of the electorate at large: younger, more affluent, more liberal and more motivated by new technology.
Thus, certain kinds of candidates perform exceptionally well online, while others simply do not.
"The kinds of candidates who do well online are a Bill Bradley, a Howard Dean, or a John McCain," Michael Lux, a former Clinton White House domestic policy aide, now a political consultant in Washington D.C., told United Press International. "They draw a constituency that is not blow-dried, that is not totally mainstream. The whole Internet culture is drawn to them."
This may create some false expectations for a candidate and his minions and even the media, because an Internet community can be spread out across the whole country, but voting is still carried out locally, and candidates often are chosen based on local values.
Experts expect the Internet is going to continue to influence the tone of the 2004 American presidential election, maybe even serving the same provocative role this year that television did in 1960 during the Kennedy-Nixon race.
"The Internet continues to change culture and politics every month," said Lux, president of Progressive Strategies LLC. "There are new developments and new trends every few weeks. It is going to have a huge influence on the election -- for it already has."
The Dean campaign first rose to prominence last summer by using cutting edge technology that was "better than streaming video," Lux said, to post its speeches and pep rallies online and make them available for supporters. "This goes over the heads of the media, who show only snippets of speeches."
The campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., quickly implemented the same kinds of technologies, enabling contributors to volunteer online, meet other activists virtually, download photos and files, and even register to vote, eliminating any purely technological edge that the rebel Dean had as Iowa approached, said Lux.
Another consultant, Kari Chisholm, founder of Mandate Media in Portland, Ore., and publisher of a newsletter called Politics and Technology, said one thing the Internet allows is a "decentralized campaign," where individual volunteers can take the ideas generated by campaign staff and generate them locally. Many campaigns use this tool today, he told UPI.
Chisholm said volunteers on blogs -- Web logs or virtual journals -- engage in verbal sparring with opponents from other campaigns, who they call trolls. "If they find a troll posting on their site, they out him," Chisholm said. "They even use the appearance of trolls as something to motivate fundraising, as in: 'Don't get mad about their nasty remarks -- give money.'"
David Carle, a press spokesman for Dean in Burlington, Vt., told UPI that quite often on the Internet, "the volunteers themselves come to the campaign with the new ideas. Our job is just to give them resources and tools that can be used. They are the ones energizing the campaign."
Lux said even if the campaign for Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., had spent $500,000 on its Internet site, it would not have had as much of an impact as Dean's did for him.
"He has different demographic -- senior citizens and unions," Lux said. "He doesn't attract the angry man crowd."
Sometimes, online political activities generate national controversy almost instantly, which might not be good for a campaign.
In early January, MoveOn.org, an online group formed during the Clinton impeachment, solicited video ads through a contest for visitors to the site, and two of the ads compared President Bush to Adolph Hitler. The postings created a national controversy, causing Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, to write an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal calling the ads a "moral outrage."
The piece was also marketed online by the Republican National Committee through its e-mail research briefing, sent to journalists with the subject line, "In Case You Missed It: Outrage.org."
The RNC also e-mail the story of Dean's failure to release 53 percent of his gubernatorial records, 145 sealed boxes of documents. The Internet-spun story generated a major buzz on cable TV, forcing Dean to respond and eroding his momentum.
MoveOn.org has also brought new people to the voting process. "I became politically active only a year ago, namely after learning of MoveOn.org," Tara McBride, a New Yorker, and volunteer for Dennis Kucinich for President, told UPI.
President Bush's team -- low-key online, thus far -- is relying heavily on the RNC's efforts. But the campaign will increase its online presence "for the Web and for e-mail" after the Democrats pick a nominee, Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for Bush-Cheney, 2004, told UPI.
"What's happening is that we're seeing the Internet maturing as a communications device in politics," Chisholm said. "Typically, in politics, campaigns are tactically conservative. They do what worked last time. The Internet changed commerce years ago. Now it is changing politics."
Experts note that four years ago, John McCain raised $1 million in 48 hours online, astounding the political establishment. "But that's light years ago in politics," said Lux.
The Internet had a big impact on the presidential election in 2002 in South Korea too, experts note. To increase political use of the Internet in the United States, Hostway Corp., a Web hosting company in Chicago, is offering free services for all politicians this year.
Some lawyers are concerned that the buzz over the potential of the Internet could go too far, and it could lead prematurely to calls for online voting, before the technology is there to make sure the votes are as honest and secure as possible.
"Voting online leaves open the potential for contesting a lot of votes," Daryl Bristow, a law partner of former Secretary of State James A. Baker, and former Bush campaign recount election lawyer, told UPI. "We try in this country to make sure there is a democratic process for voting. When you vote absentee, there are processes in place to make sure you are who you say you are and to count those votes."
Bristow, a partner in the law firm of Baker Botts LLP, in Houston, said on the Internet, no one knows who is standing over your shoulder. "With the money, power, and smarts of politicians, who knows what will happen if voting is allowed online," he said.
Gene Koprowski covers technology for UPI Science News. E-mail email@example.com