The e-mails come in a torrent now, each seemingly more urgent than the last.
"President Bush not only needs your vote, he needs your help."
"It is time to turn off the computer, lace up your sneakers and do some old-fashioned on-the-street politics."
"It's going to take hard work and a lot of creativity to get out John Kerry's message. . . . Even two hours of your time will have an impact."
The campaigns of President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry, are increasingly calling on all those who gave them their e-mail addresses to do something between now and Nov. 2 to help put the candidates over the top -- and they're following in the footsteps of Howard Dean, by using the Internet to make that something more accessible than ever.
Both have transformed their Web sites into virtual campaign offices that offer an array of tools. After feeding online supporters a steady diet of hard-hitting Web videos -- designed to stir their partisan juices -- the campaigns are now urging them to use those tools to help spin the media, contact voters and get out the vote.
But whether all this translates into results is not a sure thing. Despite the success that Dean, Kerry and others have had raising money online, experts note, it is one thing to get people to spend 10 minutes giving $25 or $50 online and quite another getting them to donate their time and energy.
Still, with the election so close, passions running high on both sides and millions of supporters' e-mail addresses at their fingertips, both campaigns have found it impossible to ignore the potential payoffs of trying. The Bush campaign said it has 6 million of its supporters' e-mail addresses. The Kerry camp said it has 2.5 million. It is impossible to independently confirm those figures. But if taken at face value, they suggest that even if a tiny percentage of those people respond, it could be significant. If just one-half of 1 percent of Bush's list responds, for example, that's 30,000 people. For Kerry, it's 12,500. Those people can knock on a lot of doors, write a lot of letters, help get a lot of people to the polls -- all at minimal cost to the campaigns.
Both campaigns have studied Dean's Internet-driven campaign, learned from what they see as its mistakes and have adopted tools that both worked for him and mesh with their command-and-control styles of campaigning. Building on this base, they have developed a number of new tools that both hope will entice more of their people to get involved.
Both have stolen a page from Dean's playbook and have adopted a variation on the Web site Meetup, which enables supporters to organize campaign-related meetings in their communities wherever and whenever they like. The Bush campaign calls its meetings "Parties for the President." To the Kerry camp, they are house parties. The name has changed, but the purpose remains the same: to introduce their supporters to one another, give them an opportunity to share their enthusiasm, and put them to work raising money, calling voters and spreading the good word about their candidate.
Both campaigns have also developed tools tailored to their supporters' communities. The Bush Web site gives users almost everything they need to canvass their neighborhoods: lists of their neighbors' addresses and phone numbers, custom-made maps to help them find their way -- even estimates of how long it might to take knock on their doors. The Kerry site provides supporters with calendars of campaign-related events in their communities, from local "visibility events" to drives to the polls for senior citizens hoping to vote early. Each campaign has also created lengthy lists of news outlets' contact information, to help its partisans churn out letters to their local newspapers touting their candidate's leadership.
The campaigns are hoping to tap the energy of those who live in non-battleground states, who want to have more of an impact on the election outcome. Both are recruiting their online supporters to travel to swing states to help get out the vote, an effort reminiscent of the Dean's campaign effort during the Democratic primaries to flood Iowa with mostly out-of-state Deaniacs.
Can't travel to Ohio? They can phone -- or, until recently, write -- it in. The Bush site enabled users to send letters to swing-state voters explaining why the president deserves another term. The Kerry campaign is offering volunteers in uncontested states the phone numbers of those who live in contested ones, in hopes that if their e-mails do not get them into the streets, a personal call from another supporter might.
Both campaigns said their sites have helped organize tens of thousands of supporters who, in turn, have somehow contacted thousands of other voters. But the e-mails are still coming: "Will you make a difference and commit to helping President Bush in the crucial final hours of this campaign?"