The Newest YouTube Stars: Campaign Managers
By Jose Antonio Vargas
As of yesterday afternoon, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama had uploaded 1,410 videos on their YouTube channels -- 224 from McCain and 1,186 from Obama.
Surprisingly, some of the more interesting, revealing of these videos were posted by their campaign managers. While they may not have been watched as heavily as others, these four videos tell us about the respective campaigns' differing online strategies.
For all the talk about McCain lagging behind Obama in using the Web, credit Rick Davis of the McCain campaign for going first. In December, less than a month before the Iowa caucuses, McCain's campaign manager posted a six-minute video. In a methodical, matter of fact tone, Davis predicted Mike Huckabee's upset over Mitt Romney in the Hawkeye State, which he called "the David and Goliath" story of Iowa.
"McCain is the most electable Republican -- there is no other conservative Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton," Davis said, chiding, among others, Romney, who is now reportedly on the short list of McCain's vice-presidential picks but whom Davis last year said had "never made a clear case for his ideology and because of his flip-flops on core Republican ideas has seen his base erode."
The video has been watched more than 6,000 times.
About six months later, after Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, Davis posted another video, twice as long (14 minutes) and so far viewed 13,025 times. In it, he is blunt about the political environment, "probably the worst in our party's history," he says.
He tells viewers about the electoral map, which is divided into seven regions -- northwest, mid-Atlantic, Florida (yes, Florida is its own region) -- and describes the two most pressing issues in each region: the economy and Iraq. He lists battleground states (Ohio, Pennsylvania), explains the need to expand the Republican base by attracting independent and disaffected Democrats and highlights the importance of California and the southwest, especially considering the size of the Hispanic electorate there. And he cites the Republican National Committee's big edge over the Democratic National Committee in helping close the financial gap between McCain and Obama.
"Starting the general election period, we are competitive financially, we have a strong organization and our candidate is poised in the polls to win in November," Davis says. Given the recent changes within the McCain camp -- Steve Schmidt, a veteran of the Bush circle, has effectively taken the reins of the operation -- Davis now sounds dated.
David Plouffe, in his own two videos, sounds anything but. Plouffe posted his first video on June 26, 2008, and followed it up less than three weeks later. Unlike Davis, Plouffe's videos are less about informing viewers about the details of the campaign's general election plan and more about asking supporters to donate more money. And unlike Davis, whose videos essentially come off as narrated power-point presentations -- we only hear Davis's voice and never see his face -- Plouffe recorded his videos in front of a camera-equipped laptop, giving the footage a raw, immediate, intimate feel.
In his first video, less than 7 minutes long and seen more than 41,000 times, Plouffe starts with a map of Election Day 2004, with President Bush winning 286 electoral votes to Sen. John Kerry's 252. "The magic number for all of you who are out there working so hard, continuing to contribute money, knocking on doors for us, is 270," Plouffe says, referring to the number of electoral votes needed to win.
The goal, Plouffe explains, is to hold on to Kerry's 252 electoral votes and compete for more in states that haven't historically gone blue. Eyes darting to the camera, he says: "We're even contesting some unusual states, like Montana, Alaska, North Dakota, where right now the race is about a dead heat, and because of the organization that you helped us build, we think we have a good opportunity."
He goes on to describe "the enthusiasm gap" between Republicans and Democrats, between McCain and Obama supporters. Citing a Los Angeles Times poll, he says that "only 45 percent" of McCain's voters say they're enthusiastic, compared to 81 percent of Obama's voters. "This is what you should feel very proud about and responsible for," Plouffe said, before adding, "So not only will they [Obama's voters] turn out to vote on Nov. 4th, but they will also be more willing to volunteer and give small dollar contributions -- and we think this is a key to the election."
Then, as if rallying a crowd, Plouffe talks about what he called the campaign's "unprecedented grassroots support," listing the "more than 1.7 million donors" who've given to the campaign and "more than 1 million" who have volunteered. Before asking supporters to donate more money, so that Obama can compete with McCain and the RNC (also the subject of his second video, only two minutes long and viewed about 42,000 times) he says: "We'd like to see those numbers grow so that in every precinct in America, we've got people working hard everyday to talk to their neighbors and convince them to support Barack Obama."
Because of the Internet, voters can now sift through more information than ever before about the presidential candidates. And because videos now go viral and take on lives of their own, voters can also feel as if they're not only supporting a campaign. They're a part of it.
"These videos make you feel intelligent, like you can do something other than sit back and watch," said Steve Grove, YouTube's news and politics editor. "And while it was McCain's campaign that first posted these videos, the Obama's campaign ran away with them. David [Plouffe] is looking at the camera, asking people to join in, making it seem as if you're right there with him."
Posted at 9:08 AM ET on Jul 29, 2008
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