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Dean Post-Mortem
Alex Steffen, 6 Feb 04

Dean: with most politico types waiting to watch the ship sink (as a friend of mine covering his campaign puts it), it's worth thinking about what went wrong with the nation's first tech-driven campaign. My short take is that electronic campaigning is here to stay, is going to only get better and more powerful, but that Dean's collapse in Iowa and New Hampshire shows that the basics (good and experienced field people, strong paid media, and, most of all, a candidate whom people like and trust) still matter more.

Indeed, I've been pretty critical of those who are jumping on a bandwagon headed the other way, saying that Dean's debacles prove the Net never meant anything in politics and still doesn't. I think that's flat wrong.

I've been critical, too, of Clay Shirkey's early takes on the Dean campaign's failures and their meanings. But now he's written a post-mortem on the Dean campaign, and it's pretty darn solid, maybe even required reading. Here's an excerpt:

"Money Isn’t Votes

"This is the big one. Dean’s internet strategy was a curiosity until there was money involved, and when it got involved, it got involved in a big way. We mustn’t forget how enormous a change this was – an upstart politician blew past all the favorites and even exited the public funding system because he got enough money soliciting donations from the internet, a few bucks at a time.

"If none of the rest of it, the MeetUps and weblogs, had ever happened, but Dean’s campaign had still done this, its place in political history would be assured.

"And yet money does not in fact buy votes. As candidates like Michael Huffington and Ron Lauder have shown, you can be very rich and still very lose. In Dean’s case, though, the effect was compounded by two other effects from above. By moving campaign donations online, they made it much easier to donate, so much easier in fact that raising millions from individuals was never the sign of strength we thought it was. (Support isn’t votes.) Like MeetUp, a lot of what the campaign achieved was by lowering the threshold to contributing, which helped create a false sense of strength.

"The other effect was that last fall, when Dean announced his desire to top the fundraising list, a lot of us gave him money, self included, as a vote for that method of fund raising, without that meaning anything about whether we’d vote for him.

"We were donating to the use of the internet as a tool, in other words – in the same way that the voters heard “Anybody But Bush” when Howard Dean was mentioned, a lot of us heard “Contribute to the use of the internet for politics” when the collection plate came around. (Novelty campaign.)

"This won’t happen again – there will never be a second candidate to use the internet first."

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