Friday, February 23, 2007

"Obama's `Netroots' Take On Clinton's Big Bundlers in 2008 Race"

About 300 backers of Illinois Senator Barack Obama gathered in Dallas this week to boost his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The candidate was nowhere in sight.

He didn't need to be. The group, with no help from the Obama campaign, organized the Feb. 19 event on its own through the Web site

The impromptu rally is exactly what Obama's campaign is counting on to help counter the fundraising prowess of the party's front-runner, Senator Hillary Clinton. Hearing about the event, at the Wyndham Dallas North hotel, Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe called in and someone held a cell phone to a microphone so he could address the crowd.

``Obama has some real advantages because he is fresh and he is new and he is appealing to young people,'' said Joe Trippi, who ran former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's Democratic primary campaign in 2004. Those attributes ``work particularly well in terms of Internet fundraising,'' said Fred Wertheimer, president of the Washington watchdog group Democracy 21.

Obama, 45, is relying on a grassroots effort aimed at online activists -- what political operatives call a ``netroots'' strategy -- to help him compete in a primary race that may come with an entry fee of $100 million. Clinton, 59, has already locked up many of the top Democratic business leaders and activists known as ``bundlers'' who can use their networks to gather maximum contributions from individuals.

A Million People

``A million people aren't coming to a $100-a-plate dinner tomorrow; a million people could go to the Internet tomorrow and give Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton $100,'' said Trippi, author of ``The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything.''

The stakes are higher than ever before as many presidential candidates decide to forgo the system of public financing of campaigns, and the spending limits it entails. Analysts expect each of the major party candidates eventually to raise $500 million for the November 2008 election.

Since the first fundraising reports won't be filed until April, there's little evidence so far about the effectiveness of the netroots strategy. The two most active candidates on ActBlue, a Democratic fundraising Web site, are former vice presidential nominee John Edwards, who has brought in more than $900,000, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has raised about $286,000 on the site.

Generating Enthusiasm

Obama is also getting help from Internet sites such as Facebook that generate enthusiasm among young people. During a stop in California this week, he asked supporters to sign up on his campaign Web site and give as little as $5 to $10.

More than 30,000 people have created profiles and started networking with supporters on Obama's site, spokesman Bill Burton said. Some 2,800 people have founded grassroots groups and 5,200 have started blogs to chronicle their experiences with the campaign.

``The best way to sustain momentum is to ensure that it's not just about you and that there are a lot of people who are invested and feel ownership,'' Obama said in an interview this month.

Clinton, who represents New York, isn't about to concede the Internet. Like Obama, she announced her interest in the race with a Web video and said almost 150,000 people signed up on her site in the first week.

Grassroots Support

Clinton also enlisted her husband, former President Bill Clinton. This week, he sent an e-mail asking for help raising $1 million in one week to showcase her grassroots support. ``Let's make this a week when we demonstrate that her campaign is strong,'' the former president said.

As of early evening Washington time last night, the appeal had raised more than $320,000, according to Clinton's Web site.

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