Wednesday, July 23, 2008
On the Twittering, Facebooking, widgety frontier of politics, one of the webbiest sites this campaign season was born just a few days ago: a 24/7 online town hall, where voters, via text or video, can help craft their party's platform.
Surprise! It isn't the Democrats.
GOPPlatform2008.com was built by a team headed by Cyrus Krohn, a veteran of Microsoft and Yahoo who's proving to be one of the GOP's most important Internet gurus. At the new site, users can send their thoughts on the party's platform and suggestions for issues that the GOP should tackle. Anyone can participate, Republican or not. Though a staff screens vulgar and distasteful submissions, it's still the riskiest thing the Republican National Committee has ever done online.
Krohn calls it "the crowning achievement" of his year-long tenure so far.
His small, cramped office is on the first floor of the RNC's headquarters on Capitol Hill. "To Vote Democrat is 'Risky' Business," reads a sticker taped on his door. Photos of Dan Quayle, Larry King and Pat Buchanan line the walls, harking back to his days as a White House intern and at CNN working on "Larry King Live" and "Crossfire." Three computer screens sit on the desk.
Krohn is the RNC's eCampaign director. Or, in the words of his boss, RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, "He's helping bring our party to the 21st century."
Quite a task, Krohn knows. The Dems have captured most of the buzz ever since Howard Dean's Internet-fueled campaign, rallying their troops and raising loads of cash online. During the primaries, the GOP famously dithered about whether to hold a YouTube debate in which voters submitted questions by video. It surely doesn't help that John McCain confesses to being a computer "illiterate" or that one of his aides felt compelled to state publicly last month that "John McCain is aware of the Internet."
"People were Twittering me from California minutes after that happened," Krohn says. Though he doesn't work directly for McCain, Krohn feels the heat. The Internet trials of McCain and the GOP are usually accompanied by a question that sticks like July's sultry heat: Are Republicans behind online?
"I often get asked that," Krohn says, "and I never really know how to answer it."
"It depends on what your definition of 'behind' is," Krohn told a group of college students visiting Capitol Hill recently. "If you look at people who are spending countless hours developing user-generated content, then, yeah, we're behind. But in terms of activity in the blogosphere, I think we're at parity, if not better."
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With his unlined face and ear-to-ear smile, Krohn could easily pass as a 20-something technocrat. But at 37 -- and a father of two with a third on the way -- he's actually one of the elder statesmen in the small but growing class of online political operatives in Washington.