The Chicago Sun-Times features reports on the effectiveness of post-McCain/Feingold media campaign operated by David Jones. Jones set out to destroy Howard Dean's campaign, and he apparently succeeded in squashing Dean's support in Iowa with a campaign ad claiming Dean's foreign policy weakness and including a visual reference to Osama Bin Laden. The ad got extra cycles when it was replayed by news programs. Jones raised money through a 527 organization, which means that he can't coordinate with any campaign or advocate for a specific candidate. By taking Dean out of the running, however, Jones made it much easier for traditional party representative, John Kerry, to build momentum. (Jones had help from Dean, who made a couple of ill-conceived remarks about Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, which resonated with the ad and led to its replay on the news.)
What's the message here? You can blame Dean and his organization (or lack thereof) to some extent for his failure to win in Iowa or any other state, but what really took him out was a bit of political slime, as usual, and it was entirely within the Democratic party. Dean was a populist candidate, and the party machines grind populist organizations into so much dust. The message is that a populist candidate - a candidate of the people, that is, who avoids commitments to large and powerful interest groups, will find formidable opposition, and the form of that opposition will be broadcast messaging.
But the Dean campaign was successful, for a populist effort, and it created a renewed interest in civic engagement and political participation supported by an emerging set of Internet-based social tools. Toolmakers are still working, still talking. The Open Source Deanspace project is still active, the Dean Campaign's Blog for America is still happening, Web of Mass Democracy has just opened as a directory of grassroots software projects and ideas. In comments below, post about political software projects on your radar, and your thoughts about the political uses of software and networks. Can we overcome the impact of high-dollar broadcast media by sustaining robust online political organizations and communities?