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‘Nobody Has Won Because Of The Internet’

In response to the WaPo article earlier this week, Patrick Ruffini posted some thoughts on where the article goes wrong but stopped short of tackling the central theme. In the comments to his post, Luke VL from Urban Elephants challenges my assertion from the article.

Well, Turk, can you tell me someone who has WON an election because of the Internet? All this navel-gazing by web folks puts the tool before its purpose. Sure, a lot of money can be raised online and the web lends a lot of legitimacy for the mainstream media who look to it for stories and to try to look hip, but it’s still predominantly in the realm of stuff that’s *neat* — you getting a lot out of Twitter, Patrick? How’s your wiki coming?

My reply back to Luke was pretty blunt. If you ask George Allen or Conrad Burns whether the Internet was responsible for their loss, they would likely reply in the affirmative. The macaca incident is certainly legendary for it’s role in costing Allen a 16-point lead. Burns napping certainly didn’t help convince voters the septuagenarian was up for 6 more years.

If those two races were lost because of the Internet, it stands to reason that two candidates won because of it. Unfortunately, they weren’t Republicans, so they don’t count, I guess.

That was Danny Glover’s point in the article and in his post on the Beltway Blogroll.

But look at the short history of online politics,” Glover said. “For Republicans, the Internet is where bad things happen. Take [former U.S. senator] George Allen and his ‘macaca’ moment. . . . You can kind of understand why Republicans have this almost instinctive fear of the Internet, where the mob rules.

It would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. At the same time we complain about the savagery our candidates are experiencing online (Allen, Burns) we’re trying to trivialize the Internet’s importance (‘nobody has won because of it’).

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim it doesn’t matter, and then act shocked when it makes the difference in one of our candidates getting trounced.

As I also pointed out to Luke, I’m guessing that, prior to Kennedy/Nixon, there were probably a lot of people saying, “TV has never made the difference”. Prior to the first successful adoption of direct mail techniques, I imagine people said the same.

Prior to 2004, a lot of people said that about cable ad buys. In private conversations with operatives on the D-side, they tell me their people were entirely baffled by the amount Bush spent on cable. They only figured it out later. Look for them to spend a lot less on national buys and more on spot cable this year.

The fact is the Internet is another technology that people will adapt for political needs. The difference is the Internet is not a one-way medium. Trying to adapt not only to a new medium, but to a fundamentally different one, is our challenge.

Written by Michael Turk