By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
A group of old Washington hands has launched a campaign to remake Internet politics, taking a forum that until now has been associated with ideologues and angry partisans and using it to start a movement culminating in a bipartisan presidential ticket in 2008.
The group is called Unity08, and no one would accuse its founders of thinking small. They include Democrats Hamilton Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon, who gained political fame for their role in electing Jimmy Carter 30 years ago, as well as Doug Bailey, a media adviser to former president and representative Gerald R. Ford (R-Mich.). They are being joined by former Maine governor Angus King, an independent.
Their goal is to offer an alternative to the two major party choices -- a unity ticket that will emerge after secure, online balloting that they hope will include millions of Americans. In an announcement statement, Unity08 said its efforts are a reaction to a system that has "polarized and alienated the American people" through partisanship and interest-group politics.
Unity08's organizers estimate that if 20 percent of the voting public signs on -- hardly a modest goal but only slightly more than what independent H. Ross Perot won in his dramatic 1992 presidential campaign -- then "our voters will decide the 2008 elections."
This is different from Perot and his budget charts. Unity08's founders said they do not want to create a third party but, rather, force Democrats and Republicans to revamp themselves by becoming more issue-focused, responsive and candid. These are the same traits millions of Americans say they clamor for each election but never seem to find. "What we are trying to do is to create a forum for people who are in the middle who have been left out of politics," Bailey said.
The 2004 elections proved the Internet can energize politics. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean went from obscurity to front-runner almost overnight as liberals organized -- and contributed money -- over the Internet in ways the political establishment did not anticipate. Now, Internet strategy is central to the campaign plans of both parties. Its potential is unlimited -- if highly uncertain -- in shaping future elections.
Yet the blogosphere is often dominated by voices from the ideological extremes. Jordan, Rafshoon, Bailey and King are betting that the Internet has room for an activist middle, as long as the process is controlled by the people -- especially the young. Their theory is that most Americans are fed up with both parties, a belief backed by recent polling data, and are eager to shake up the political process if they can find an outlet.
Noting that about 85 percent of Americans use the Internet, Rafshoon said that "they can't all be extremists. There has got to be room out there for us."