Why Howard Dean is making all the running

Why Howard Dean is making all the running

Simple: his campaign is MUCH smarter. His team have just released their very own computer game. According to this report, the game simulates the process of getting out the vote in Iowa, including pamphleting, canvasing, placing signs, and moving people to the local precinct to caucus. The game was developed by game designer and theorist Gonzalo Frasca, working with Ian Bogost, as another illustration of news gaming.

Oh and there’s a wonderful NYT column by Frank Rich analysing why the political and media establishments are still blindsided by the Dean campaign. Here’s a chunk:

“The condescending reaction to the Dean insurgency by television’s political correspondents can be reminiscent of that hilarious party scene in the movie “Singin’ in the Rain,” where Hollywood’s silent-era elite greets the advent of talkies with dismissive bafflement. “The Internet has yet to mature as a political tool,” intoned Carl Cameron of Fox News last summer as he reported that the runner-up group to Dean supporters on the meetup.com site was witches. “If you want to be a Deaniac,” ABC News’s Claire Shipman said this fall, “you’ve got to know the lingo,” as she dutifully gave her viewers an uninformed definition of “blogging.”

In Washington, the only place in America where HBO’s now-canceled “K Street” aroused histrionic debate, TV remains all. No one knew what to make of the mixed message sent by Dr. Dean’s performance on “Meet the Press” in June: though the candidate flunked a pop quiz about American troop strength (just as George W. Bush flunked a pop quiz about world leaders in 1999), his Internet site broke its previous Sunday record for contributions by a factor of more than 10. More recently, the dean of capital journalists, David Broder, dyspeptically wrote that “Dean failed to dominate any of the Democratic candidate debates.” True, but those few Americans who watched the debates didn’t exactly rush to the candidate who did effortlessly dominate most of them, Al Sharpton. (Mr. Sharpton’s reward for his performance wasn’t poll numbers or contributions but, appropriately enough, a gig as a guest host on “Saturday Night Live.”)

“People don’t realize what’s happened since 2000,” said Joe Trippi, the Dean campaign manager, when I spoke to him shortly after Al Gore, the Democrats’ would-be technopresident, impulsively crowned Dr. Dean as his heir. “Since 2000, many more millions have bought a book at Amazon and held an auction on e-Bay. John McCain’s Internet campaign was amazing three years ago but looks primitive now.” The Dean campaign, Mr. Trippi explained, is “not just people e-mailing each other and chatting in chat rooms.” His campaign has those and more — all served by countless sites, many of them awash in multi-media, that link the personal (photos included) to the political as tightly as they link to each other.

They are efficient: type in a ZIP code and you meet Dean-inclined neighbors. Search tools instantly locate postings on subjects both practical (a book to give as a present to a Dean supporter?) and ideological. The official bloggers update the news and spin it as obsessively as independent bloggers do. To while away an afternoon, go to the left-hand column of the official blogforamerica.com page and tour the unofficial sites. On one of three Mormon-centric pages, you can find the answer to the question “Can Mormons be Democrats?” (Yes, they can, and yes, they can vote for Howard Dean.) At www.projectdeanlight.com, volunteers compete at their own expense to outdo each other with slick Dean commercials.

But the big Dean innovation is to empower passionate supporters to leave their computer screens entirely to hunt down unwired supporters as well and to gather together in real time at face-to-face meetings they organize on their own with no help from (or cost to) the campaign hierarchy. Meetup.com, the for-profit Web site that the Dean campaign contracted to facilitate these meetings, didn’t even exist until last year. (It is not to be confused with the symbiotic but more conventional liberal advocacy and fund-raising site,MoveOn.org.) Its success is part of the same cultural wave as last summer’s “flash mob” craze (crowds using the Internet to converge at the same public place at the same time as a prank) and, more substantially, the spike in real rather than virtual social networks, for dating and otherwise, through sites like match.com and friendster.com. From Mr. Trippi’s perspective, “The Internet puts back into the campaign what TV took out — people.”

To say that the competing campaigns don’t get it is an understatement. A tough new anti-Dean attack ad has been put up on the campaign’s own site, where it’s a magnet for hundreds of thousands of dollars in new contributions. The twice-divorced Dennis Kucinich’s most effective use of the Web thus far has been to have a public date with the winner of a “Who Wants to Be a First Lady?” Internet contest. Though others have caught up with meetup.com, only the Wesley Clark campaign is racing to mirror Dr. Dean’s in most particulars. The other Democratic Web sites are very 2000, despite all their blogs and other gizmos…”