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The Original YouTube Candidate?

BY Joshua Levy | Tuesday, March 20 2007

Witnessing the continuing brouhaha over the 1984/Vote Different video, it's easy to think that the 2008 campaigns are the first to play with online video. For the sake of context, it's worthwhile to take a step back and look at how one previous campaign paved the way for 2008.

I talked via email with Tim Tagaris, former Internet guru for 2006 Connecticut Senatorial candidate Ned Lamont, who reminded me that this kind of YouTubing and re-mixing has already happened in a campaign. For him, the “original YouTube candidate” is Lamont, who beat Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut last August, but lost to him (with Lieberman running as an independent) in November.

According to Tagaris, “hardly a video went posted by the campaign that didn’t receive thousands of views.” Tagaris describes the videos the campaign put up, some of which you can watch here, here, and here, as “a mix between campaign commercials and stuff you couldn’t find elsewhere.” They are all amateur-ish, grainy, and shaky, but they also give an inside look at the campaign. One, for example, shows Lamont’s spokesman speaking out against what he called the Lieberman campaign’s “personal attacks” on Lamont; the audio is bad and the speaker is emotional. Not exactly a weekly Hillcast. One Lamont TV ad got almosmt 150,000 views on YouTube.

Tagaris even finds an earlier, lower-quality version of the Hillary/1984 video that’s gotten everyone excited, except that this one stars Joe Lieberman. It was created last summer during the Lieberman/Lamont race by Bob Adams, who blogs at Connecticut Bob.

CT Bob's recent post shows the two videos back-to-back, and while the Hillary version is of a much higher-quality — Adams simply superimposes Lieberman’s face over Big Brother, and the audio is the same as the original — the guiding idea is almost identical.

Even though the two videos are a little too similar to be random, Adams is graceful about the similarities. “Now, maybe they didn’t get the idea from my video, but I’m just sayin’…,” he wrote.

As for user-generated videos, Tagaris points to two that are pretty good, if a little long and over the top. While they are really nothing more than clever mashups of horror films and Joe Lieberman ads, they do strike the same pop-culture chords as the 1984 video. Tagaris calls them “mini-macacas,” though I would have to disagree because there are no gotcha moments in them, nor do they show footage of Lieberman that we haven't seen before. Also, Lieberman won; George Allen didn't.

Tagaris also writes, “we were the first campaign to shoot a YouTube video with a candidate and ask people to respond with their own videos. We did it during the primary — a video conversation on YouTube. The topic was why having a debate about the Iraq war was important (kudos here to [Matt] Stoller and Jane Hamsher).” That video received dozens of comments when it was posted on the Huffington Post.

One thing to note here — Tagaris consistently praises the efforts of volunteer Lamont supporters during the campaign, especially "Scarce," CTBob, CTBlog, Aldon Hynes, and "Spazeboy," who "all set the standard for how campaigns will use viral video during this election cycle. They deserve a world of credit for their work during the campaign." The campaign went as far as it did because of the creativity and tenacity of the supporters, and that extends to the amount of user-generated content produced by them. Aside from the 1984 piece (and now, its responses) no supporter-contributed videos have made much of splash during this campaign. “No one, and I mean no one, did it the way supporters of Ned Lamont did in the primary,” Tagaris wrote.

Lamont wasn't the first candidate to use YouTube, or whose supporters mashed-up bits of pop-culture with campaign messages, but the Netroots' endorsement of his campaign brought together the kind of technological resources that were rare just a year ago; now it's expected by many of us that all presidential candidates pull out similar tricks and open up to supporter-contributed content.

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