Obama's Wide Web
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Amid the cramped, crowded cubicles inside Sen. Barack Obama's campaign headquarters here, sandals are as ubiquitous as iPods. Two young guys in shorts and T-shirts throw a football around. An electoral college map (California 55, Texas 34, etc.) is taped to the wall in the men's bathroom. A BlackBerrying staffer sneezes and blurts out, "Whew! I think I'm allergic to hope!"
This is Triple O -- Obama's online operation.
Five years ago, Howard Dean's online-fueled campaign cemented the Internet's role as a political force. Exactly how big a force no one was quite sure. But this year's primary season, spanning six months, proved that online buzz and activity can translate to offline, on-the-ground results. Indeed, the Web has been crucial to how Obama raises money, communicates his message and, most important, recruits, energizes and turns out his supporters.
With less than three months to go before the election, Triple O is the envy of strategists in both parties, redefining the role that an online team can play within a campaign.
"Theirs is an operation that everyone will be studying for campaigns to come," says Peter Daou, who was Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Internet director.
Adds Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum, an online hub of how politics and technology intersect: "Obama's success online is as much about how our society has changed, how our media ecology has changed, just in the past four years."
Rasiej describes how his 81-year-old father, an Obama supporter, has taken to e-mailing videos of the senator's speeches and policy plans to 50 of his friends. "In one afternoon, my dad is reaching friends who in the past would have taken him a whole year to be in contact with. That's not necessarily Obama. That's the Internet," he continues. "But you have to give credit where credit is due: Obama's Internet team is doing a hell of a job taking advantage of all these changes. They've basically leapfrogged not just the Clinton and McCain campaigns but also the mainstream media when it comes to reaching their supporters."
Joe Trippi, who's widely credited with Dean's pioneering use of the Web, says: "I like to say that we at the Dean campaign were the Wright brothers. We put this rickety thing together and got it off the ground. But the folks in Obama's online team are the Apollo project. The question is, are they Apollo 8 or Apollo 11? If they're Apollo 11, they're going to launch a guy and land him in the White House."
The launch began in early 2007, when Joe Rospars, a veteran of the Dean campaign and the Democratic National Committee, was hired as new-media director. In the following weeks, the 27-year-old assembled a group that included one of the co-founders of Facebook, an award-winning CNN producer and a text-messaging enthusiast. BarackObama.com was born.
A year and a half ago, Rospars led a group of 11. It's easily double that now, with staffers taping signs on the back of their furniture that read, "This is not an extra chair! This chair belongs to . . ." Rospars won't divulge the total number of people in his team. "We don't want to give away our entire playbook," he says.
But he and other members of the group were willing to discuss many other details behind Triple O. This is how the pieces of their operation fit together.