October 29, 2007

US 90 vs. The Information SuperHighway

In the 1970 Chiles for U.S. Senate campaign, Walkin' Lawton did his best to get the shoe leather buzz goin' from Century to Tallahassee to Lakeland to Miami. From the beginning miles on State Road 4 and US 90 onward, the campaign sent out pages of his Walkin' Notes to newspapers large and small to spread the walkie-talkie news. A thoroughly mocked one-man march in March became a winning populist crusade come September.

North Florida didn't even have an interstate, let alone an information superhighway like the internet. To reach every corner of the state, the Chiles campaign relied on the unpredictable network of barbershop and general store scuttlebutt as much as editorials from the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald. Even in urban Miami, Chiles personally waved signs to get a honk from folks on their way to work. He counted progress by the number of shoes he had worn through, not gallons of gas burned.

Now, to advertise the completion of his 99-county drive-and-rally campaign, John Edwards (D) for president posted its own campaign own newspaper online for millions to read. No need for a letter to the editor; or for Edwards to stand at the edge of a cornfield with a sign; or even to notify a single media outlet before online publication. A rally one night becomes old news by the next morning--everyone's already read the skinny by the time they go to lunch via the campaign homepage, using their laptop or iPhone.

The internet may be the newest form of asymmetric campaign warfare. Is it also the best?

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