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Angelides, Schwarzenegger square off in cyberspace

“Vote for Phil today,” urged e-mails from gubernatorial candidate Phil
Angelides and the California Democratic Party last week. Although Angelides
will not face Gov. Schwarzenegger for more than four months, his campaign
urged supporters to help make the treasurer a ‘Progressive Patriot’ this
week.

The prize: a $5,000 campaign contribution from the political action
committee of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, which sponsored the
election among Democrats nationwide.

Angelides won. But more important than the cash are the cyberspace bragging
rights, and the demonstration of grassroots strength. The exercise was one
more example of the energy that Angelides and Schwarzenegger are putting
into mobilizing the ‘netroots,’ as online supporters are now known.
“What you are seeing is the constant evolution of campaigns,” says Angelides
spokesman Brian Brokaw.

So while Angelides and Schwarzenegger continue to spend the lion’s share of
their resources on traditional campaign tools like television advertising,
both sides are investing significant time and energy to do battle in
cyberspace.

Team Schwarzenegger has revamped its “Join Arnold” Web site twice in recent
weeks and has begun to roll out Podcasts, phone ring tones,
instant-messaging buddy icons and a blog for the high-tech faithful. Online
supporters of the governor already have been invited to an exclusive
“insider briefing” with campaign manager Steve Schmidt, and can tune into a
Podcast, a downloadable audio file, by chief strategist Matthew Dowd on the
current dynamics of the race.

The governor even hosted his first-ever online town hall last week, though
Schwarzenegger’s state office planned the event and questions about his
re-election bid were strictly off limits.

“Technology is an effective tool in communicating with voters about the
record of the governor,” said Schwarzenegger campaign press secretary Julie
Soderlund. “We’re looking forward to using both long-established and
cutting-edge technology to deliver the governor’s message.”

Soderlund adds that the campaign hopes to make daily updates to the Web
page. “We are always looking to put new information on the Web site,” she
said.

Angelides’ Internet operation features far fewer bells-and-whistles. There
are no podcasts or ring tones. There is no blog. But the center of
Angelides’ Web-based mobilization–a new voter-to-voter online outreach
program–is anything but low-tech.

Angelides is the first statewide candidate in California to use the
technology, which is called Viva Democracy and is produced by Daniel Lopez,
a veteran of the Howard Dean presidential campaign.

The software allows pre-screened volunteers to download a highly specific
database of get-out-the-vote phone numbers. The volunteer can micro-target
individuals by age, gender, party registration, ethnicity, neighborhood and
even language.

For example, a San Francisco-based volunteer can choose to only call older
female Chinese Democrats in San Mateo. Any calls not completed are cycled
back to the master list.

“It allows your activists to feel that they are creating a team of their own
on behalf of Phil,” says deputy campaign manager Dan Chavez.

Chavez said that in the final 30 days of the primary the campaign recruited
600 online volunteers, who made contact with more than 37,000 voters. There
were only 1.5 paid staffers dedicated to the effort.

“Given that we only did 30 days in the primary, I have no qualms about
reaching into the thousands in the fall and from there the mass just
explodes,” beams Chavez over the phone.

Veterans of Internet campaigning say that the core of any online operation
is the e-mail list of supporters. Angelides touts that his “A-Team,” as the
campaigns calls its list of Web-based backers, has grown to more than 67,000
people, two-thirds of the way to their goal of 100,000.

“It is helpful in terms of generating small donations and grassroots
fund-raising,” said Brokaw. “Whether it is crowd-building for events or
sending thousands of petitions to the governor’s office, there are many
different uses for it.”

A spokeswoman for the Schwarzenegger campaign declined to disclose the size
of their e-mail list, which has been compiled since the 2003 recall.

Schwarzenegger’s “e-campaign” received a boost earlier this year after the
new campaign team, headed by White House veterans Schmidt and Dowd, acquired
the contact information for California subscribers to the Republican
National Committee e-mail list. A Schwarzenegger representative declined to
discuss the how much money–if any–the campaign paid for the RNC e-mail
addresses.

Both camps trade dueling e-mailed press releases and “insider” memos that
are rifled off to the press corps in hopes of influencing coverage. In a
recent release, titled “Facts about Phil: Dodging The Issues,” the
Schwarzenegger campaign linked to several audio files they had posted on the
popular YouTube Web site, a free clearinghouse of short videos.

By placing the audio files on YouTube, the Schwarzenegger campaign allows
general-public visitors who search for “Angelides” to see the Schwarzenegger
perspective of the Democratic candidate. Angelides’ operatives have been
busy on YouTube too, posting most of the treasurer’s more positive campaign
ads. Angelides’ most popular YouTube video, a primary ad that makes light of
Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding past, has been viewed more than 3,200 times.

“Six months ago I had never heard of YouTube and now we are using it almost
every day,” says Brokaw.

Angelides even has an account on MySpace, the popular friend-networking
portal. Though the MySpace profile is unofficial, a former volunteer for
the campaign set up the site and updates it almost daily, Angelides counts
more than 2,300 friends.

“MySpace will not tilt the scales in our direction,” admits Brokaw. “But all
of these different tools together can make a difference.”


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