II. The First Union Center: The Bush Campaign Places the Web Offstage
Historically, political campaigns have used new media to surprise and out-maneuver the opposition. In 1952, for example, the Eisenhower campaign used television to win a crucial confrontation at the Republican convention.3 This year, even though television networks reduced convention coverage, they still offered the Republican party several hours of prime-time exposure to mass audiences. The Republican party could have taken this opportunity to publicize its presence on the Web, and to embrace politics on the Internet.
The Republican convention opted not to take advantage of these opportunities. Although "gopconvention.com" signs were visible to delegates in the arena, they were not seen by television audiences. There were no signs whatsoever for related GOP sites, such as rnc.org, georgewbush.com, and gop.net. While many Republican officials were interviewed at the nearby "Internet Alley," where online media booths were located, the nominees, Bush and Cheney, failed to appear. The biggest sensation on the Alley was the television-star wrestler, The Rock, registering to vote at the YouthVote2000 booth. During the convention proceedings, none of the major speakers issued invitations to visit Republican Web sites. In all, there were a half a dozen references to "the Internet" in the C-Span/Virage convention index. In his acceptance speech, George W. Bush only mentioned the Internet in a punchline to a joke about Al Gore.
There were indicators prior to the convention that the Bush campaign was not going to integrate fully the Internet into its campaign strategy. As soon as the Republicans announced their 2000 Vice-Presidential nominee, Richard Cheney, the Democrats posted an attack on Cheney's Congressional voting record on the DNC's new Web site, www.bush-cheney.net. As a result, most of the first-day news stories about George W. Bush's Vice-Presidential choice referred to both the Republican spin and the Democratic counter-punch. Although the selection produced a "Cheney bounce" in opinion polls, an aggressive Internet strategy could have converted that poll surge into contributions, volunteers, and money.
Before the convention, the Republican party invited its supporters to become "dot-com delegates." These virtual delegates could download a credential, only suitable for framing. They could "gain entry to the Talking Points used by Republican leaders when they brief delegate caucuses on key issues," pose screened questions to a GOP official, and chat with fellow dot-com delegates. These opportunities appeared to be only sparsely attended; when the author went to the GOP chat room, there was no one else there.
It seems that the Bush campaign is more concerned with the e-mail side of the Internet than the interactivity of the World Wide Web. The Republican Party plans to use the Internet for its get-out-the-vote drive in the Fall and has begun to place banner ads. They would be smart to distribute video clips from the Bush speech on their Internet site. It may be that the Bush campaign calculated that embracing the Internet carried too great a risk, since a political message placed on the Net can be forwarded, repackaged, and re-sequenced by countless others, including the press and Bush opponents.
Other political players were more active on the Internet than the GOP or the Bush campaign. Surprisingly, McCain added fresh content to his Web site, www.straighttalkamerica.com, during the convention. The Shadow Convention on the Internet was well organized, executed, and attended. Its Web site featured a voice-chat technology that enabled speakers to converse with their audiences on and off-line right after their addresses. A "Rapid Response Panel" reacted to GOP speeches in real time. Both techniques are likely to become part of the future Internet campaign repertoire.
3. Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang, Politics and Television, (Quadrangle Books, 1968); Zachary Karabell, "The Rise and Fall of the Televised Political Convention," Shorenstein Center Discussion Paper D-33 (October 1998).
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