Checking In…

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I won’t be at Hillary Clinton’s speech today, because I’m in Houston at a daylong forum on “The Internet and American Politics: Politics Online” at Rice University. I’m on a panel later today, but given the lineup of speakers, I think I will be soaking up a lot more information than I’m imparting.

The first speaker up is the Washingtonian’s Garrett Graff, who was also then-Governor Howard Dean’s first webmaster back in 1997, and who has written extensively on the intersection of technology and politics. He made an provocative observation as to why Republican campaigns are struggling with the internet as a campaign tool. Graff says the most important reason is that moving the country into an “ideas economy” amounts to a “death sentence” for the Republicans, because every major center of technology in the country–he mentioned Boston, Austin, Raleigh and Denver, among others–is trending toward the Democrats. It will be interesting to hear the perspectives of some of the other speakers on this.

UPDATE: Here’s a horrifying stat from Adelaide Kimball of Project Vote Smart, which compiles information about candidates, ballot measures and issues:

In 1996, 72% of federal candidates were willing to volunteer their positions on the issues to the organization. By 2006, that number had dropped to 48%. The reason, she says, was advice from their political consultants, who warned the candidates “to be safe, and not to expose themselves to opposition research.”

UPDATE2: From the afternoon’s panel of bloggers. Moderator Emily Balanoff of the Annette Strauss Institute started by posing an interesting question: Do you think of yourselves as journalists? Eileen Smith of In the Pink Texas: Bloggers are “a hybrid. … A blog gives you the opportunity to be a virtual columnist.” Charles Kuffner of Off the Kuff still considers it “a hobby.” Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake prefers to think of herself as an activist, who incidentally breaks news. And Tom Bevan of RealClearPolitics said he doesn’t really have an answer to that, but that it’s important to figure it out.

UPDATE3: Michael Turk, who was eCampaign director for Bush-Cheney 04, had another theory as to why the GOP isn’t connecting online. He believes that the party is using essentially the same message that they use to reach evangelicals, who–to the degree they are online–aren’t there for politics, but rather, for religion. The real energy online comes from libertarian wing of the party, which explains the Ron Paul phenomenon. So it’s a case where the message doesn’t match the intended target. From the party that turned “microtargeting” into a science in 2004, that is a telling admission.

Turk also recounted his own work with the Fred Thompson campaign, which had intended to be a virtual version of McKinley’s 1896 front porch campaign, but with a virtual front porch. The problem, he said, was that they didn’t follow up on that concept. By August, he said, top campaign officials were saying they “didn’t have time for the internet.”

UPDATE4: Phil Noble just made an interesting prediction, but asked people not to blog it. I’ll post something when it comes out in his Politicsonline column Monday.

UPDATE 5: Mindy Finn, who ran Mitt Romney’s internet operation, says that GOP’s problems on that front have less to do with technology than with leadership. She points to some of the points that are being made on this topic on The Next Right.