Internet Made A Difference In Close Congressional Races of 2000

The Internet was an important factor in key congressional races in 2000. I was a consultant to numerous candidates through Democrats.com, so I have some personal insights. Challengers who won tight races against incumbents had better Internet strategies, according to a survey by E-advocates and Juno Online Services. In eight toss-up Senate and House races where a challenger won, six out of the eight winners employed a superior web strategy, the survey found.

In Arkansas, Democrat Mike Ross used a dynamic web site in his campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Jay Dickey. The e-advocates/Juno study rated Ross’s “web-winning strategy” 78 percent compared to Dickey’s 44 percent.

In California, Republican impeachment manager James Rogan was outshone at the polls and on the Internet by Democrat Adam Schiff. Schiff’s Internet strategy rated a perfect score of 100 percent in the e-advocates/Juno study, compared to Rogan’s 67 percent. Rogan got a double whammy from the Internet. He and fellow impeachment manager Bill McCollum, a Florida Republican running for the Senate, were both targeted by the online political organization Moveon.org, which rose up like a phoenix from nowhere to raise more than $2 million online to support the opponents of Rogan, McCollum and other progressive candidates.

California Democrat Jane Harman walloped Republican Steve Kuykendall with an Internet strategy that rated 100 percent with e-advocates/Juno. Kuykendall’s Internet presence rated a measly 33 percent.

In Deleware, governor Tom Carper successfully used the Internet to portray himself as “a senator for our future” in contrast to the 79-year-old incumbent William Roth. Carper narrowly beat Roth and his “web-winning presence” was 33% compared to Roth’s 22%.

My own analysis pinpointed other races where the Internet made a difference. Washington State Democrat Maria Cantwell, an executive with Real Networks, won her Senate race against incumbent Republican Slate Gordon by less than a thousand votes. Her innovative Internet strategy made some difference. The Internet was “most useful in tilting thoughtful undecided voters, –and these are the people who show up in the last two weeks,” wrote Cantwell’s Internet Director John Beezer in a thoughtful e-mail analyzing the top 10 things he learned while campaigning online in Campaign 2000. The Cantwell campaign on its web site “avoided strident messages, avoided preaching to the choir.” They focused “on providing complete and accurate information designed to help independent or middle-of-the-road undecided voters reach the right decision,” he observed.

In races for the House of Representatives, Democratic incumbent Rush Holt of New Jersey used the Internet to beat back a fierce challenge from Richard Zimmer. Holt won by 672 votes. In Dade County, Fla. Elaine Bloom didn’t concede to incumbent Clay Shaw until late November. Shaw won by just 589 votes. Bloom’s well-conceived Internet strategy gave Shaw a run for his money. A 20-year-incumbent accustomed to winning 60% of the vote, Shaw had the fight of his political life.

In Minnesota, Republican Mark Kennedy defeated four-term Democratic Congressman David Minge by 149 votes. Kennedy’s web site was far superior. Minge did not even accept donations online.

In Michigan, Republican Mike Rogers used the Internet to convey a far more vigorous and lively campaign than the staid web site of his opponent, Democrat Dianne Byrum. Rogers won by just 152 votes.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, Democrat Terry Lierman used e-mail and his web site to generate great enthusiasm and more than 1,000 volunteers for his long shot campaign to unseat liberal Republican Connie Morella. Running for her eighth term in Congress with a reputation for invincibility, Morella’s voter percentage in 2000 was the lowest she has ever received in her congressional career. She won with just 51.9% of the vote.

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