Something Just Clicked

Linnie Frank Bailey, an Obama delegate from California's 44th District, strolls the grounds of the state capitol in Sacramento with husband Greg Bailey.
Linnie Frank Bailey, an Obama delegate from California's 44th District, strolls the grounds of the state capitol in Sacramento with husband Greg Bailey. (Michael Rondou - For The Washington Post)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

SACRAMENTO It all started last summer with a $10 online donation -- her very first political contribution.

With another click of the mouse, 52-year-old Linnie Frank Bailey, a political neophyte, morphed into a campaign volunteer. By fall, she'd taken on the titles of "area coordinator" and "regional field organizer." And by winter, she'd become a field commander of sorts, organizing a 10,000-square-foot presidential campaign office in southern California.

Now, nearly a year later, more than just the seasons have changed. Here inside Room 307 of the Sacramento Convention Center on a recent Sunday morning, a once unengaged but now thoroughly committed woman sits alongside seasoned political activists and big-money donors at the only meeting of the state delegation to the Democratic National Convention. The mother of two, the middle-class homemaker, the self-described "blogger-on-training-wheels" is now one of California's 166 pledged delegates for Sen. Barack Obama.

"Imagine that!" Bailey says. "Without the Internet, I don't know if I could have gotten this involved."

Bailey is a prime example of the still evolving story of this campaign -- how the Web has enabled everyday people to become engaged in ways that have changed the dynamic of a presidential campaign. And Bailey's just one drop in the ocean of politics.

More than half of the $264 million that Obama has raised so far, in fact, has mostly come from online donations of less than $100. In other words, from supporters like Bailey. She's one of more than 1.5 million donors -- the most in the history of primaries -- who have given to the first-term Illinois senator. But it's less about a specific party or a particular candidate and more about the process and how technology has opened it up.

"It's been totally unexpected, the depth of the grass-roots enthusiasm that's bubbled up from the Internet," says Art Torres, head of the California Democratic Party.

Adds Democratic pollster Peter Hart: "This is a big transformation in how campaigns operate, and it boils down to the power of one, the feeling that one individual can make a difference."

And Bailey did it with only $10.

The Online Beginning

"You might need a shot of something before you step in here," says Bailey as she walks into her "war room," the cramped, cluttered home office she shares with her husband, Greg Bailey.

Friends, relatives and neighbors know her as a quick-witted, deeply religious African American woman who's got an infectious laugh and looks much younger than her 52 years. But on the Internet, where she spends much of her day blogging, commenting on news articles and checking her social networking profiles, she goes by "linnie1" or "LinnieFB." If she's not trying to land a freelance writing gig or tending to her 9-year-old daughter Kyra and 18-year-old son Gregory, she's online.

She wasn't much into politics growing up. A graduate of UCLA, she first worked as a computer programmer, then as a consultant and writer, later co-writing a book about God and faith. She married a software designer in 1989 and settled into a two-story, five-bedroom house in Corona, a conservative, middle-class town of 150,000, less than an hour's drive south of Los Angeles. When she got pregnant, she left her corporate job and decided to work from home. Life was good.

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