As any presidential candidate will (or should) tell you, the Internet has become a major part of any campaign, and, like everything else on the net, is rapidly evolving not only as strategists become savvier about using the Web, but as the Web’s technology becomes more sophisticated as well.
On the day of the first presidential debate on CNN featuring questions from the YouTube community, it’s interesting to note that the candidate the most fervent online support after Barack Obama is Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas who, while not the kind of guy that stands in line overnight for an iPhone, is smart enough to embrace the groundswell of support he’s received on the Internet, and, in an extended election cycle which lends itself to experimentation, has been one of the frontrunners in exploring all that the web has to offer.
As this New York Times magazine article notes, he’s the most “friended” Republican on MySpace, a video of him on YouTube has been viewed more than 280,000 times, and in the Eventful.com “demand horserace,” where users make requests for candidates to appear in their towns, he’s beating Sen. John Edwards by a good 10,000 votes.
No one’s really expecting Paul to win, though, which frees him up to explore a few more unconventional campaign strategies, such as being the first candidate to be interviewed by James Kotecki in his dorm room (see above) and appearing on “Attack of the Show,” a program on G4, a cable channel whose coverage usually centers around the latest video games, and whose host referred to Paul as the “lonelygirl of the Republican Party.” (Which I don’t think Paul quite got.)
Of course, as Matt Debergalis of ActBlue will probably tell you, being really popular on the Web–which many ascribe to Paul’s techno-savvy libertarian supporters–doesn’t mean much if they can’t deliver the dollars and the votes. Just ask Howard Dean. But Paul’s willingness to try new things, even if he doesn’t completely understand them, is having a trickle-down effect: Two months after Paul talked to Kotecki, the college student had also scored interviews with Mike Huckabee, Sen. Mike Gravel, and Edwards. In the end, Paul’s greatest contribution to the election may not be what he adds to the political conversation, but how he adds to it.