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Seeding the Online Grassroots

For all the political junkies out there who, like me, are already obsessed with the 2008 presidential race, it's interesting to watch how the would-be candidates are working to grow online grassroots networks.

Two examples from the potential Democratic field arrived in The Fix's e-mail box in the last 24 hours -- one from Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's All-America PAC and the other from retired Gen. Wesley Clark's Securing America PAC.

Bayh's e-mail calls on supporters to offer their opinions about what specifically is wrong with the political culture in Washington and to offer ideas on how to fix it, a subtle move designed to distance Bayh, who is currently in his second Senate term, from being portrayed as an "Inside the Beltway" lawmaker.

"I am curious to find out what you think is wrong with Washington and what you believe the solution to be," Bayh writes. "I believe that at least part of the solution lies in bringing the American people back into the governing process."

The e-mail doubles as an indictment of the Bush administration, a bit of red meat for Democrats who may see Bayh as too moderate to truly motivate the party's liberal base.  Bayh rattles off a list of failures in "George Bush's Washington" that includes the push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, support for "unfair trade agreements" and a lack of commitment to "make the homeland as secure as it can be."

This survey-style appeal by Bayh follows in the footsteps of a similar strategy being employed by Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack -- another potential 2008 presidential candidate. While the candidates are undoubtedly interested in the responses to their queries, the real prize is harvesting personal information (phone numbers, e-mail and home addresses etc.) that can be used to make further financial pitches down the line.

Wesley Clark's latest e-mail makes a pitch for a congressional candidate close to his heart. The message touts the candidacy of Eric Massa, who is running for against freshman Rep. Randy Kuhl (R) in New York's 29th district. Massa served as a military aide for Clark and was an active supporter of Clark's short-lived 2004 presidential campaign. "He was with me during some very challenging times -- and now I am standing with him in his race for Congress," writes Clark.

As part of his fundraising appeal for Massa, Clark, like Bayh, calls the current climate in Washington a "disgrace." He adds: "Indictments, bribery, investigations, leaks, out of control spending, and strategic blunders are the hallmarks of the one party power structure in place there."

Clark's e-mail on behalf of Massa is likely the first of many that potential 2008 presidential candidates -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- will send to their backers between now and next November's midterm elections. Watch to see who is the most active in using their e-mail list to help downballot candidates and who is the most successful in terms of raw dollars.

UPDATE, 2:55 p.m. ET: Less than an hour after writing this post, another e-mail from a Democrat eyeing the 2008 race arrived in The Fix's overflowing inbox.

This missive came from Delaware Sen. Joe Biden (D), who was making a fundraising appeal for his Unite Our States leadership PAC. "The 2006 elections are right around the corner and America has a chance to make a powerful statement about the direction of the country," Biden writes.  The best way to do that? Why give to Unite Our States, of course!

"The best thing I can do for Democratic candidates is to travel the country campaigning on their behalf and bring our message of strength, hope and unity to every competitive race," Biden adds in the message.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 14, 2005; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Parsing the Polls: Iraqis on Iraq
Next: Romney's Out ... And In?


DZ, who do you like? Nader? Amy Goodman?

Posted by: joe joe joe | December 15, 2005 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Biden can be good when he works himself into a lather over something. But overall, I'd say you're insulting the turnips. Feingold should be the one with fire in the belly passion this time around. I think he's the only potential candidate who actually believes in something coherent and consistent. Bayh's principles are as rock solid as crepe paper in the wind.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | December 15, 2005 4:21 PM | Report abuse

"While the candidates are undoubtedly interested in the responses to their queries, the real prize is harvesting personal information (phone numbers, e-mail and home addresses etc.) that can be used to make further financial pitches down the line."

Actually, people don't like being treated like ATMs instead of supporters. Tim Tagaris wrote the best set of guidelines for candidates who want to avoid that, at . Any fundraiser knows you have to make your donors feel special, that they're a valued part of your organization - I hope these opinion-gathering efforts by candidates mean they're trying to use supporters' ideas as well.

Posted by: Jade | December 15, 2005 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I like how Bayh's PAC still has Tim Kaine and Jon Corzine showing as candidates on the front page. Way to keep everyone updated on the hot races!

Posted by: Matt | December 14, 2005 9:44 PM | Report abuse

With respect to all those Democrats willing to toss their hats into the ring, I admire Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia as he was able to persuade a Republican majority to actually increase taxes to accomplish reasonable goals for his state. He is from the South, which can help in today's political climate. With the exception of Sen. Clinton (who has White House experience), I do not believe Congressional candidates are best qualified for the job and, in the long run,lack of management experience tends to show up in the management of their campaigns. As for charisma, if you put former President Clinton and President Bush on the same stage, Bush becomes practically invisible so, in spite of what many candidates would like to believe, charisma is as important as leadership, decisiveness, knowledge of issues and intelligence.

Posted by: M. R. Larson | December 14, 2005 5:01 PM | Report abuse

When I was younger everyone told me how the Republicans were the party of fiscal responsibility and the Democrats were the party of tax-and-spend. If you cared about responsible handling of our country's resources, you had to vote Republican. Sure the Dems had nice ideas, but they just weren't practical.

Now, the Republicans are the party of a message of strength and the Democrats are a party of disunity. There's no central Democratic message, they're too divided, they just don't have any good leaders. Yeah there's a lot of good ideas, but how can the nation unite around such a messy house?

Notice a pattern? Why must Democrats continually accept the labels Republicans have made up for them. Republicans have strong leaders? Like who, the President who has seen his party knock down his nominee, abandon his war, and refuse to invite him to their fundraising events (a la Kilgore)? Or maybe Tom DeLay whose lieutenant Roy Blunt is positioning himself to take his job. Or Frist who can't keep the Senate from passing amendments the White House strongly opposes?

The Republicans have a unified message? What? Tax cuts that the House moderates balked at? The Iraq war that the GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee takes issue with? Abortion that is supported by the chairman of the Judiciary who has said any Supreme Court nominee that opposes it will face a tough hearing?

The Democrats are not more fractured than the Republicans, they are not more leader-less, they are simply more apt to publically self-criticize and a little more gullible.

Posted by: Dem | December 14, 2005 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The biggest problem for the Democrats in 2008 - and I reluctantly consider this since I believe an obsession with the White House has, at least in the past, hurt the party in state, local and Congressional elections - is that I believe too many of them (like in 2004) look at Bill Clinton as an example, rather than an abberation.

President Clinton was a rare breed; intelligent, intellectual, a great politician and communicator. He is probably the only person that could have made his strategy of "triangulation" a reality. What the Democrats need is for a candidate to come forth and offer a truly different and unique vision. However, this also doesn't mean that it should be a traditional leftist agenda that soothes the more left-leaning base.

To be sure, this idea of a need for Democrats to be in lock-step like the Republicans is way off base. It has never been neccessary in American politics for a party to be in total unison for it to succeed. In fact, one could argue that disagreements within the party are actually an advantage. The problem is that when many within party think of dissention, they think of '68 and that's a scarey prospect.

So far, I haven't seen anything very interesting from any of the political figures mentioned as potential candidates. Unless a lot has changed, Clark was most often times caught flat-footed in '04 when he actually had to talk about concrete policy ideas; especially if they didn't relate to national security. Biden was on Charlie Rose today; I caught the last part and, as always, I have a ton of respect for him (even if he's a little too centrist for my personal tastes). However, can a Sentaor from Delaware really win?

Posted by: Matthew Schmidt | December 14, 2005 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps you don't know Wes Clark has an active community of supporters that are continuously providing feedback and responding to his thoughts and ideas.

Here's a sample of a recent discussion between Clark and the CCN (Clark Community Network) members about his Iraq strategy.

It is a rich and varied community that continues to increase in size and diversity. It's also acknowledged by most 'bloggers' to be the best online grassroots community sponsored by a leading Democratic politician.

Clark's near term goal is to support Democrats in tough '06 races. The appeal for Eric Massa isn't the first, nor will it be the last.

Posted by: Texas Kat | December 14, 2005 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Well, yes, there is that problem, but none of these people have any ideas. Clinton and Bayh are DLC 'centrists' who don't believe the same things that I do, and I part company with Wesley Clark on almost everything. Plus, none of them would be willing to stand up in public and call Brownback and Frist theocrats - even though it's practically self-evident (res ipsa loquitur)

Posted by: DZ | December 14, 2005 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I dont think we have to worry about charisma if we are going up against theocrats like brownback or frist, and certainly a harmless looking moderate like Bayh is the only chance against McCain, unless 3 million new "liberals" are created b/w now and then

Posted by: Bp | December 14, 2005 2:37 PM | Report abuse

If Clinton, Bayh and Clark are the best that we can do, we're toast in 2008. These people are about as charismatic as turnips.

Posted by: DZ | December 14, 2005 2:30 PM | Report abuse

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