- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

A weekend surge of donations to Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean’s Web site marks a growing push for online campaigning, but the Internet is not expected to replace traditional stumping soon.

The former Vermont governor collected more than $500,000 in Internet contributions during the weekend from 9,621 donors — doubling the $250,000 Vice President Dick Cheney raised at a luncheon Monday in South Carolina. Mr. Dean’s campaign challenged his supporters to “show Dick Cheney that the grass roots have the power to take on special interests” with a telethon-style call for contributions on his Web site, www.deanforamerica.com.

The site, paid for and maintained by Mr. Dean’s campaign, targets individual donors with savvy features, such as pro-Dean wireless text messaging about upcoming appearances and a red baseball icon that fills up as contributions pour in.

The campaign’s e-mail list sends messages to nearly 225,000 subscribers.

“I was shocked and amazed” at the weekend campaign’s success, said Richard Armstrong, a Washington direct-mail specialist and author of “The Next Hurrah,” a book about political advertising. “This is really the first time [the Internet] has been used to this much effect.”

Internet campaigning and fundraising hold the advantages of mass mailings — reliability and effectiveness — with the added benefit of self-sustainability, low cost and speed, Mr. Armstrong said. Wooing potential donors with traditional means often requires several years to develop a relationship.

“What’s happening with Howard Dean has completely turned that on its ear,” he said. “It’s remarkable, the enormous success they’ve had with it.”

But Internet campaigning will only supplement, not replace, traditional means, said David Mark, editor in chief of Campaigns & Elections Magazine. Mr. Dean’s decision to use “the great equalizer” in his fund-raising efforts has proven effective so far, in part, because he experiments with new features, Mr. Mark said.

“So far, he has really been pushing the envelope with what he offers online,” said Mr. Mark, adding that a strong Internet base also helps his representatives respond faster to critics. “Dean has raised Internet fund raising to a high art, and whether one agrees with [his platform] or not, it remains an effective tool.”

The Internet has been “extremely important” to running the campaign, but “what it boils down to is really the core values that inspire confidence and trust among the American people,” said Dean spokesman Eric Schmelltzer.

“Obviously, the governor doesn’t sit behind a computer all day and run his campaign from an office,” Mr. Schmelltzer said. “The Internet is a tool of the campaign, but it’s not the campaign itself.”

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