Doug Bailey died over the weekend. Most people outside of politics — and even some in politics — didn’t know of Doug. But, you should. Not only did he found The Hotline, a ground-breaking publication of political clips and reporting, but he also foresaw the future of campaigns.
NBC’s Chuck Todd, a former Hotline editor, flagged this piece that Bailey wrote for the Post in January 1996 in which he envisioned what a 2008 campaign might look like. It’s remarkably prescient in imagining how constant connectedness and the 24-hour news cycle would fundamentally re-shape American politics.
Read it. And remember this was written in January 1996(!). “Third Rock from the Sun” was one of the most popular shows on television. Michael Jordan was still playing basketball. “Tickle Me Elmo” was all the rage.
(And, yes, Bailey’s memo below is entirely fictional. There is no Congressman Paul Zurawski. And Colin Powell isn’t president. We shouldn’t need to say that. But, we do anyway.)
The following confidential consultant’s memo provided to The Washington Post is an insider’s guide to 21st century e-campaign technology. When the three-way presidential election in 2000 produced no majority in the Electoral College, it was Rep. Paul Zurawski’s vote in Congress that gave Illinois to Colin Powell and made him the first Independent Party president in American history. Zurawski, the youngest House member, was denied a seat by a furious Republican caucus but has been re-elected three times since as an Independent. He is an announced 2008 candidate for the Illinois Senate seat left open by the term-limits retirement of Sen. Robert Kustra.
January 28, 2008
TO: The Hon. Paul Zurawski, U.S. House of Representatives
FROM: Doug Bailey, The American Political Network
Because knew how to run a computer campaign sooner and better than anyone else, the enormous political potential of the Internet got you to the House. Now it’s going to get you to the Senate.
These days the winners are those who 1) stay on message and 2) realize that the medium that is the message is on-line. Back in the ’90s they complained about the never-stop campaign. Little did they know. On-line is 365 days a year, every year. The simple rule is to make everything available so that whenever the users want it, it’s there. They shape the campaign timing, just like your grandparents used the old Wurlitzer juke box to dance to the tunes they wanted when they wanted them. From detailed position papers to speech texts to video clips to your bio and voting record, when they click on your web site, it’s on the menu. Whatever, whenever.
CYBER STATUS: There are now close to a billion people with on-line access throughout the world, 225 million in the United States. Statewide polling shows 63 percent of Illinois households are on-line, including 78 percent of voting households. (I can remember the days when pollsters didn’t even ask the question!)
In your suburban Cook County district, there are 128,000 households with living room e-centers. (Retailers report, by the way, that this season’s Christmas sales of e-centers actually decreased for the first time since on-line and TV technologies were merged into one machine with big screens and easy access for the home market in ’97. It’s getting to be as commonplace as the telephone.)
Each of your likely major party opponents has begun using the e-campaign, but only as one of many tools. They don’t yet see that online has fast become the low-cost means of reaching, recruiting, nurturing and activating a personal constituency. They’re still learning the on-line turnout lesson you taught us all in 2000. The record number of young people you were able to bring to the polls still mystifies the old-timers.
MONEY: Even sticking to your $ 99 limit per donor, you can probably raise the $ 10 million needed to run a race. I would recommend going back to the 2.5 million e-petition signers you recruited to repeal the 12th Amendment in ’01. I’m confident you can get close to 100,000 donors from that list alone. (NOTE: I can’t emphasize enough that your continued pledge not to share donors’ names or e-mail addresses with anybody has been crucial to building loyalty. The wide abuse of marketing on-line user lists in the late ’90s has been largely curtailed, but potential givers are still edgy. Once the credit-card security hurdles were overcome, it is amazing how fast the old direct mail fund-raising was replaced by low cost e-mail appeals tailored via demographic profiles — the profiles being enriched every time an on-line user made any choices from movies to news interests to games and purchases.)
Your constituent e-mail lists can be productive donor lists too. It seems like only yesterday that your aggressive solicitation of their views on every major issue was derided by colleagues who feared that e-mail would overwhelm their staffs. Now the “reverse frank” of no cost e-mail is a given on the Hill. Most of the moaners quit or lost long ago.
REACHING VOTERS: Your TOWNE-meetings are now drawing an average of 34,000 district households. An interactive TV program with you in your office and the voters in their homes was not even on the drawing boards 12 years ago, but now there are over 12,000 homes in the district with two-way videophones for their call-ins to the show. Over 10,000 catch up with the TOWNE-meeting tape in the on-line library later. (Whatever happened to the old VCR by the way? I guess it is just a relic of the linear television days.)
Our latest research shows that almost 90 percent of the homes that take part in your TOWNE-meetings are using their armchair dials to answer your questions. The polling shows clearly that they like being asked, they like being heard, they like seeing the instant attitude of the full audience — but they also like your willingness to vote your conscience. (NOTE: Last year’s upset of old “Wet Finger” Williams, who used the system every night before a vote, should be a constant reminder not to overdo it.)
The user surveys show that of all the features of your web site, the e-mail Alert is the most popular. Delivering to every constituent’s e-mailbox a daily briefing on new contents on your site — new votes, information or chats on issues that interest them — is like an individualized TV Guide.
CAMPAIGN PREPARATIONS: You will need to expand your web site, but not by much. The beauty of an e-campaign is that once you’re established on the Internet, you could be reaching voters not just in suburban Chicago, but in Cairo, Ill., and even Cairo, Egypt. All you need to do is expand the site to include statewide issues. For example, you need a detailed position paper on flood relief along the Mississippi from Quad Cities right down to St. Louis. You might solicit first-person flood victim stories in video-on-demand format to underscore your commitment.
By the way, the decision to stick with your campaign committee site rather than making it a House site was wise; the growing restrictions on what members can do on their “official” sites was predictable. (Drawing the line between what is information and what is promotion never has been easy, regardless of the technology. But the voters don’t seem to mind that the site isn’t sanctioned by Congress.)
THE OPPOSITION: The sites of your two major party opponents are okay but don’t use the medium to its fullest. One is far too stagnant, apparently unaware that changing features like news updates, questionnaires and chat room topics is what draws users back and turns them into a “user community,” loyal to the service. The other opponent mostly uses her site to talk to her organization — preaching to the choir — rather than reaching out through the kind of interactivity that allows users to shape the service by defining what they want from it. And neither grasps what the first telco and cable tests showed back in the mid-’90s: The technology of on-demand works only if you provide what they can’t get easily already.
ONE PROBLEM: Someone has to make clear to your ad guy that his linear TV spots don’t work in the on-line environment. Your campaign will need them because I doubt that the old hour-by-hour TV schedule will ever totally disappear, but that is a vastly different medium. On-line video-on-demand users are not captive “couch potatoes.” They determine what they want and when they want it. And when they ask for your views on the genetic cloning ban, they don’t want negative attacks on someone else or pretty pictures with music. You don’t have to limit yourself to 30 seconds, or any fixed time-length, but you better not waste their time with evasions or self-promotion.
Don’t forget, in doing your video-on-demand issues segments, that your opponents will probably do the same thing. And since we have decided to provide a simple link to their sites by one click on the mouse, voters will be able to compare your position with theirs side-by-side. We should design everything to encourage (and win) just that kind of comparison.
KEEP IT NEW AND ACTIVE: Change is what helps reach, then recruit and then nurture your Zurawski “user community.” Fresh material on the site is essential. Keeping your full voting record updated every day is a good example. Some on the Hill still don’t get it; if voters can now easily find it all out anyway, why not give it to them your way? And, of course, providing your voting record justifies providing your opponents’.
The other key to on-line success is interactivity — a sense of participation. Keep them with you by keeping them engaged. So why not have your bumper sticker designed by on-line competition again? A Creative Corner could give vent to would-be cartoonists, speech-writers and TV ad-makers. Asking voters their advice is a pretty sure way of winning their interest and respect. I love your idea for a Virtual Congress simulation done with the 40 other Independents in the House — allowing constituents to play their member of Congress in hearings, floor debates and votes.
TURNOUT ON E-DAY: You are well-positioned to capitalize on next year’s introduction of on-line voting. What a change! Using your electronic registration code, you can vote from home, the office or anywhere. Absentee voting will have no meaning any more.
It used to be that a higher proportion of older folks voted. But on-line has become a larger part of the life of each new generation, so the tables are now turned. You set records in organizing young voters in ’00. You set records in registering them on-line in ’04. You can set records in on-line voter turnout in ’08.
I don’t need to tell a Chicago neighbor about voter fraud, and you know both that the critics expect it and that the system almost invites it. But the protections and penalties against credit card fraud on-line seem pretty sure to deter massive registration card fraud on-line as well.
Again, the word to focus on is “community.” If we 1) reach, 2) recruit and 3) nurture a large enough Zurawski user community, activating them to e-vote should be a no-brainer. If they’ve been coming to your site on a regular basis all year, they’ll be there on E-Day.
ONE EXCEPTION: Unlike your suburban district, the state has pockets of lower-income voters who aren’t on-line and won’t be e-voting. The living room e-center began as an expensive appliance conspicuously consumed by the haves; while costs have come down, it’s still not affordable to everyone. You will need an old-fashioned campaign to reach voters in places such as Chicago’s inner city and some of the downstate towns.
But this creates a terrific opportunity. Your on-line community is a ready army of potential door-to-door volunteers. We should mobilize them with a “knock on every door” campaign. Our focus groups are finding that the impact of hi-tech politics is so dominant it makes the pay-off from hi-touch politics all the greater.
What a spectacular show it will be! Well-informed voters casting ballots without leaving home — and a campaign that gets out to knock on every door. It’s the impersonal politics of the ’90s stood on its head.