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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
Internet lesson from US elections
John McCain's campaign website
John McCain used the Internet to run with Dubya
By BBC NewsOnline's Kevin Anderson in Washington

The last election in the United States was most memorable for its cliffhanger ending, but the 2000 elections also saw an increase in the use of the internet.

Use of the world wide web in the US increased dramatically in the four years since the previous presidential election in 1996, and the internet made a splash in the 2000 presidential elections.

It helped Republican John McCain raise millions of dollars, and the party conventions showcased cutting-edge technology.

But, finally, yard signs, political rallies and old-fashioned campaigning won the White House for George W Bush.

Online political analysts believe we have yet to see the internet play a decisive factor in the presidential election.

The internet insurgents

The internet played a role in the 1998 race for governor of the US state of Minnesota and it was cited time after time for the internet insurgents in Election 2000.
Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura
Political maverick Jesse Ventura blaze the trail in using e-mail and the Internet to beat the odds

In that 1998 race, political maverick and former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura used a guerrilla e-mail campaign to rally his supporters and win the election.

"The American dream lives on in Minnesota. We shocked the world," Governor Ventura said at a victory rally after beating his opponents from the Republican and Democrat parties.

One of the people who took notice was Max Fose, who joined Arizona Senator John McCain's full-time election staff in 1993.

He travelled to Minnesota to study how Mr Ventura's campaign used the internet to upset the establishment and the two-party system in taking the governorship for the Reform Party.

Mr Fose took up the internet with zeal and spearheaded efforts to help Senator McCain's presidential cyber campaign.

Running as an underdog, he said, "Senator McCain, from day one, knew that we had to try new and innovative ways to be competitive, and he knew that the internet was one way that we could be competitive with Governor Bush on a national level."
Man with wearable computer
The Internet was everywhere at the Democratic and Republican conventions

But it was not just Mr Fose beating the drum for the website.

"It was Senator McCain, the campaign manager, all the way down to the receptionist who were involved in the internet campaign and who knew it would make a difference," he said

It paid off. Senator McCain promoted his website tirelessly after his victory in the primary election in New Hampshire, and within 48 hours after his victory, he was able to add a million dollars to his war chest through online fundraising.

At their peak, donations were coming in at $30,000 an hour.

Convincing undecided voters

The net continued to play a role throughout the election.
Former Vice President Al Gore
Al Gore may not have invented the internet, but he used it during Campaign 2000

Both parties highlighted the net at the political conventions, and news and political websites were out in force at the Republican convention in Philadelphia and the Democratic convention in Los Angeles.

Both Mr Bush and Al Gore explored new ways to use the internet in their campaigns.

Mr Gore took to e-mailing challenges to his opponent, and both candidates had both English and Spanish versions of their websites.

But last autumn, as the candidates criss-crossed the nation stumping for votes, the internet took a back seat to old-fashioned rallies and televised debates. The internet was not seen as deciding the election.

Michael Cornfield is research director of the Democracy Online Project at The George Washington University, and he says the internet now has limits to its effectiveness in political campaigns.

"The internet raises money; the internet attracts volunteers and gives volunteers things to do for the campaign without them leaving their house; and the internet helps campaigns communicate with the press and around the press," he said.

But "what the internet does not do, is convince undecided people to go one way or another."

The next step

The internet is yet to see its full political potential. But Mr Cornfield said the 2000 election was just the start.

The website used a real-time dial-a-meter to gauge visitors' reactions to the candidates' speeches, and he sees new technologies just around the corner that could drive its political use.

He sees a day when candidates will have a "click to talk" button on their website linking them directly to campaign workers.

"That will literally and figuratively take online politics to another dimension," he said.


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