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YearlyKos Liveblogging: Inside the Online Campaign Teams

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, August 2 2007

Here are my quickly taken notes on the DNC's panel on how the presidential campaigns are innovating online. Note: these are my rough transciption of what was said; not exact quotes. Four campaign are represented here: Obama (Joe Rospars and Josh Orton), Dodd (Tim Tagaris and Matt Browner-Hamlin), the Edwards campaign (Tracy Russo) and the Richardson campaign (Joaquin Guerra and Andrea Johnson):

Josh McConaha, Internet director of the DNC introduces the group, noting that he has worked with each of these people at one point or another.

<strong>Joe Rospars and Josh Orton from Obama go first</strong>:
Rospars: "In general we are excited that there has been grassroots energy across the country, building a strong foundation for whoever the nominee is. We have seen support in blue states, red states, all over the nation. The role of the new media department, in relation to our supporters, is to get out of the way and enable people to connect to the campaign. Our job is to lower the barrier of entry, so people can connect thru whatever their issue is. At, people can create their own blog (12,000 on the site), they can create their own profile (75,000 on the site), their own activist group on the ground (6,000 on the site). We're not looking to take people's information and then maybe get back to them when the campaign rolls into their town, we're looking to enable all this grassroots activist.

The second thing we're always trying to do is raise the expectations of what it is to be a supporter. It's not enough to say 'I support Obama.' If you say you're a supporter, you need to get out and do something: have people over your house, give $5, knock on some doors, put a bumpersticker on, in your community. There's no magic beans or special sauce to this, just making it as easy as possible for people to get involved with the campaign."

Josh Orton: "If there would be any magic beans, it would be the input we get from our supporters. With a quarter-million people supporting the campaign, every one of them has a unique story. To tease that out, we use the blog and video. We want to show people why someone else has joined the campaign, why people just like them have shown. We'll profile supporters...the dinner with Barack was a good example of this. Afterwards, we rolled out the stories of the four people who had dinner with Barack, went to their hometowns, found out why they were supporting the campaign, what issues they wanted to bring to him, and then filmed the dinner in DC and what it meant to them afterwards. Showing these stories provide a point of entry of people who aren't already involved in politics. Telling them in this way, of how they can be involved and way, can be done with the new technology. the stories we've gotten have been profound.

Rospars: "It sounds feel-good, but the point is it has a measurable effect on getting people to knock on doors on June 9, or donate before the end of the quarter. we figured out who the 250,000th donor was and went out and interviewed her. This woman was sitting in front of her computer screen literally crying as the stories of other donors rolled by. People with kids in Iraq...and she decided then she had to be the 250,000th donor."

Orton: "We're working for a candidate we believe in deeply. We haven't seen one like this ever. The other part is connecting people to the candidate, his history and vision. There are limitations to how people can build a relationship to a candidate under the limitations of the traditional media. We asked people to submit their health care stories through the mypolicy application on the site, and a woman described her difficulties getting health care, and Barack responded to her personally. And Amy came to his speech, and Barack talked about her. So we're connecting supporters to each other and also to the candidate."

<strong>Tim Tagaris and someone whose name I missed from the Dodd campaign goes next:</strong>

Tim Tagaris: "I've been a proud member of this community since 2004. Joe and Josh are doing a great job and they excel in what they're doing. One thing we're doing a bit differently, we like to give people a window into the campaign. I don't know how many of you followed the Lamont campaign in 2006 [applause from the audience]. We tried to give you a window into it, so you could feel like you were there with us. I think that's why so many people came up to CT to volunteer with us at the end. We used YouTube a lot, for example. So we are using a lot of live video on the Dodd campaign. We show him on the campaign trail. And we also show people what's happening at campaign headquarters. On any given day we could be going live from HQ and then, bam, live from Ottumwa, Iowa with Dodd and then taking questions from someone in Virginia. That's one of the things that distinguishes us from the others. We went live from some of the debates, showing you the war room. We've done several live chats on different blogs.

Now, I want to get to the O'Reilly story. You 'haters' here know what I'm talking about. He's been on a two-week tirade. We got an email at HQ, asking us how the campaign responds to five comments that had appeared on Kos. The communications director alerts us to it, and I start salivating, this should be right in our wheelhouse. You know O'Reilly wanted us to condemn them, but we pushed back, and I don't think they expected that. And then he invited us on the show, and we accepted, and I don't think he expected that. [More laughter.] Dodd's also a proud member of this community and has posted here, you know. The show was supposed to go on yesterday, but the bridge collapse bumped it. We heard that Dodd represented the community well. Today, he decided to put it on the O'Reilly Factor, his radio show. This is the first time we've heard it, 15 minutes ago.

[he plays some clips of the interview, which you can listen to here: O'Reilly notes that Dodd turned on Lieberman, the room applauds...cites a cartoon of Lieberman and Bush, asks him to distance himself from it. Dodd responds that "I'm stunned that you would go after a community site with 500,000 comments a day and go after a few...your real objection is the ideology of this site...lots of overtalk, alas...'are you OK with that cartoon, sir?...of course not but that's not the issue...'there's thousands of vile postings of that website'...Dodd cites O'Reilly urging an attack on San Francisco and O'Reilly tries to deny it...Dodd cites the exact reference...'you're a propagandist'...'your description of that website is so opposite to what it is, the hate on it'...Dodd: "You make derogatory comments about individuals and groups once every 6.8 seconds....that's terribly wrong in my view." The room erupts in cheers.

<strong>Tracy Russo from the Edwards campaign now speaks</strong>:
This is kind of wierd because Tim and Joe and Josh has either worked with me or taught me everything I know...What our campaign is about is having really detailed plans and taking action now, not waiting til he gets into the White House. You saw that with the development of our OneCorps groups. And they are about local action, not things like 'women for Edwards.' It's about doing a local food drive. Taking action now and not waiting til we have the right person in the White House.

My job is the blogging. I blissfully don't have to worry about the emails and if you're getting too many. I work on connecting the bloggers and the activists, and connecting what's happening insdie the campaign to what's happening online. This isn't about a campaign asking a Zack Exley to fix their computers. The people working on fundraising or field may not know what the connection is to what they can do online or who they can tap. Our midwest organizer may be rolling out some endorsements and I know some bloggers to connect him to. Or we learn from our bloggers about a problem in Oklahoma and we can tell the political director about that.

Really changing the culture of an internet campaign means connecting the disparate parts. Elizabeth really gets it, she's a blogger....what we're all pioneering now, whether its Barack's dinner or Tagaris's going live from Iowa will be standard in two cycles. There isn't a perfect science to this, it's not brain surgery, but it's about making people feel connected to decisions and actions that they can take together. We're going to give people tools to connect them to each other, and we're going to inform them about the positions that John has taken. And that's pretty much what I do all day.

<strong>Andrea Johnson and Joaquin Guerra from the Richardson campaign go last</strong>:

Andrea: One of Gov. Richardson's greatest strengths that he loves to do is talk to people individually. He has the world record for handshakes--13,000 in 8 hours at a state fair. One of the things we really try to do online is bring that to people who don't get to meet him in IA, NH or NV. So we've come up with some ways of doing that, like the "Ask Bill" program, where people can post a question to him. For our YouTube feature week, we're looking at that too. Gov. Richardson is really focused on alternative energy. For YouTube week, we asked people to give us their ideas on that, for the best one, he's going to go there and talk to them, wherever that may be.

Joaquin: Fourth of July, the governor had NH to himself and he did four parades in one day. WE have a campaign videographer who travels with him and captures a side of him that you can't really see on TV. You see him really working the parade in Amherst and really connecting with people. We also really try to make sure he gets one-on-one time with bloggers wherever he goes. He was on his way to a blogger meetup in Des Moines in January when his car slid off the road, and he literally got out and helped push it back so they could get there and meet with the 8 or 9 bloggers who were there.

QUESTIONS [the Richardson people smartly used some of their time to invite questions, and so the first few went only to them]:
-Q: "From the Dean campaign, a whole lot of stuff just happened and the infrastructure got set up later...but I noticed that when the campaign went away that all went away, especially in states like IA and NH."
-Andrea: "When we win the primary, we'll get back to you on that. I worked with ACT in 2004 and it was really unfortunate that a lot of that infrastructure dissipated."
-Q: The thing that was so attractive about the Dean blog was that it wasn't just a conversation among supporters but also with the candidate. Being from NH, I'm fortunate to be able to question the candidates directly. But BlogforAmerica had the candidate answer questions...
-Andrea: "That's something we're working on with 'Ask Bill'--people talking directly to the candidate. we also do a lot of live chats around debates. People like to talk with each other, rather than us. The organizer in CA wants to hear from the organizer in IA. The best ideas often come from us getting out of the way."
-Q: "How much organic welling up from the blogosphere will be allowed from these campaigns?"
-Andrea: "There's not a huge barrier to trying things out. If you have a good idea, we'll try it. The staff around the governor is remarkably open."

At this point the questions were thrown to the other campaign reps:

Orton: For our part, there are 15,000 people on our site who have their own blogs. We're constantly reading those and pulling the best ones out. It's personal stories, testimonials and chronicles of what is going on, with pictures and videos, and so on. And we can put that up on the main blog and get it out there."
Dodd guy: Our site is Drupal based. Every page and post allows comments. Giving people an opportunity to see what chris dodd's position is on education and then ask their question right there is great.
Russo: "I have Elizabeth and Joe Trippi who sometimes read and see things before I do, who see something say on DailyKos and comes to me and say, let's do something on this. We're much more open to grassroots ideas and involvement than anyone else. We think your ideas should be powering our campaign."