Enough about John F. Kerry. What about his e-mail list?
The former Democratic presidential candidate built, over the course of his two-year campaign, one of the biggest e-mail lists in his party. More than 2.7 million supporters signed up to receive his campaign e-mails, which his advisers have said were critical to its fundraising success. Now, as Democrats survey the post-election landscape, some are wondering what Kerry might do with all those e-mail addresses.
It is a relatively new question. Few cared what happened, for example, to Al Gore's e-mail list when his Democratic presidential campaign folded. But with the increasing maturation of the Internet as a political tool -- and the huge sums that can be raised online -- some experts said those addresses can remain valuable long after an election.
"It could be a very powerful thing," said Eli Pariser, the executive director of MoveOn.org's political action committee. "It is part of the way that online organizing is reshaping politics, because, as opposed to the boom-bust cycle of campaigns -- where you build up all this grass-roots energy and then it dissipates -- now you can keep them connected to you for cheap. It totally changes what it means to be a losing presidential candidate."
Strategists said Kerry's list might be used to raise money for him and other candidates, to organize supporters around various causes, and to help position the senator from Massachusetts as the head of the Democratic opposition -- all of which might come in handy if he decides to run for president again.
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who has held on to the list he developed during his presidential campaign, has since used it to raise money for other candidates. Most recently, his organization, Democracy for America, raised $250,000 to help pay for the recount in Washington's gubernatorial contest. His spokeswoman attributed those donations to solicitations e-mailed to 600,000 of the group's supporters.
Kerry spokesman David Wade said the senator's list stands at 2.7 million, which would mean it dwarfs Dean's and rivals some of the largest lists that Democrats have created. The Democratic National Committee, for example, said it has 4 million addresses. MoveOn.org boasts 2.9 million. America Coming Together, a liberal 527 organization (so called for the section of the tax code that covers it), has 400,000. There is some overlap among the lists, because some people signed up for more than one. It could not be determined whether the DNC and Kerry have shared addresses.
Kerry sent out his first post-election e-mail last month, criticizing President Bush and urging supporters to sign a petition backing a legislative proposal to give health insurance to all children. "This is the beginning of a second-term effort to hold the Bush administration accountable and to stand up and fight for our principles and our values," he wrote. "They want you to disappear; they are counting on that. I'm confident you will prove them wrong."
Some strategists warned that Kerry will have to do more than that to maintain his online following. "It's been my experience that, without a lot of work, the lists degrade pretty quickly," said Nicco Mele, an Internet adviser to Dean's presidential campaign. "Think how many people signed up in the heat of the presidential campaign who may be less interested now that it's over."
Moreover, many of those supporters were less interested in Kerry than in defeating Bush. But Mele and others said the list can be maintained with proper attention -- like any other constituency group, they said, online activists must be cultivated.
"If the only interest in them is in tapping their wallets, they'll unsubscribe or ignore it," said MoveOn PAC's Pariser, who suggested that Kerry give his supporters plenty of opportunities to voice their opinions. "What we've found is that people are very generous, but all they ask for, really, is some respect -- that this isn't a one-way relationship, that they offer input and participation and ideas. They will put money up to have that service."
Wade said he does not know how many signed his boss's petition. But he said Kerry plans to use his list to put more muscle behind his work in the Senate. "That's an army of people you can turn to, whether it's to lobby their Congress people, to lobby the moderate Republicans . . . to deluge those offices with calls and e-mails," Wade said. "It's a grass-roots force."