January 19, 2004


Kerry and Edwards Turn Late Surges Into Iowa Success is the headline. And that's half the story of the Iowa caucuses, the first votes in the determining the Democratic contender for president. But the other big story is where the hell did Howard Dean go.

Now I wasn't in Iowa, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the internet. Dean's the internet candidate, he's mastered the medium. But as we learned a few years back in a bursting bubble, the relationship between the internet and reality is tenuous at best.

Dean has already changed the way campaign fundraising is run in a big way. He found where the internets strengths were. Now he's about to find its weaknesses. I suspect a good part of his drop in Iowa comes directly from his flooding the state with out of state volunteers. Online its easy to forget about the local, its easy to celebrate the common connections we share across geographic boundaries. Its easy to think sending a horde of foreign kids to another territory to support your cause is a good idea. And I suspect when the analysis is done, it will be clear that Dean's "perfect storm" was hammering in exactly the wrong message.

The other key change in the lead up to tonight caucuses was an increase in TV ads. I haven't seen the commercials running, but all indications are that Dean just isn't ready to run a media campaign. The internet is an isolator, an echo chamber. Across the Dean blog space, the energy is intense, but its also contained. The collective organization of Dean people online is a massive amount of potential energy, but its not quite ready to be focused right. Nor does it have anything to do at all with making good TV ads. Ads that are essential to reaching those millions of voters who are not confined within Dean's intense but distributed and unfocused network.

Like many internet ventures before it, the Dean campaign is not quite ready to scale. It's a bit too early to see if Dean's another bubble, or just a bit over optimistic on the earnings predictions, but in a few weeks we'll know a hell of a lot more.

And yeah, I forgot, the final factor. Kerry is tall. Dean is short. Make what you will of it, history shows it means far to much in these matters.

Update: check out what Matt Stoller has to say. Sort of what I'm saying, but from quite a different angle. Doc Searls has a good take too.

Posted by Abe at January 19, 2004 10:06 PM