2008 Candidates Gear Up For Internet Campaigning

Al Gore claimed he invented it. John McCain predicted it would revolutionize political campaigning. Howard Dean made it pay — and then some.

Ah, the Internet.

As candidates prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the Internet is the new Main Street. An estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States travel the digital highway, still a cheap and largely unregulated medium.

Reaching those potential voters and donors has become an important part of modern politicking. Candidates aggressively compete for the talents of the most creative geeks in politics and develop new ways to exploit the Net.

Republicans have mastered e-mail as the new form of direct-mail campaigns, raising money and pushing a GOP message. Democrats have excelled at raising cash through small-scale donations and making the Net their version of talk radio.

"You have an inexpensive way to have a conversation with people with the propensity to turn out and vote," said Rick Davis, a McCain adviser who managed the Arizona Republican's 2000 presidential campaign.

In that race, McCain predicted that "in the next few years the Internet will completely turn political campaigns upside down."

McCain, the potential front-runner for the 2008 GOP nomination, is among the most tech-savvy could-be White House candidates today. He has retained many hands from his 2000 bid and has recruited some of the top names in online campaigning.

The model for many presidential wannabes is former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. True, Dean was soundly defeated in his race for the 2004 Democratic nomination. But his campaign relied on the Internet to raise an enviable $53 million; more than 60 percent of donors gave less than $200 each.

Lesson learned, potential 2008 campaigns say.