The Web Site That May Change History
It is high season for politicians scrambling for dollars. The Hillary Clinton juggernaut continues apace with a record $26 million in the till in the first quarter of 2007—over three times what any other candidate has ever raised at this point.
Meanwhile, America is looking at the strangest election in history.
By the end of January 2008, two states will have held their nominating caucuses for president and vice president (Iowa and Nevada) and two more states—New Hampshire and South Carolina—will have held their primaries.
On Feb. 5, 2008, an estimated 21 additional states will hold primary elections including such behemoths as California, New York, Illinois, Texas, Missouri, New Jersey and Florida.
By Feb. 6, half the states will have voted and the nominations for president and vice president may be sewn up nine months before the general election.
The other half of the country—those folks in states with later primaries—will have been shut out of the nominating process.
Or will they?
Dinner With Roger Craver
In 1975, Roger Craver founded the fundraising agency Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co. In over 30 years, it has raised more than $3 billion for a slew of nonprofits including Common Cause, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the ACLU, the Cousteau Society and Habitat for Humanity.
In 1984, when my wife, Peggy, and I first launched WHO’S MAILING WHAT!—the cranky little newsletter based on my archive of direct mail samples—Craver’s client roster included a number of Democratic candidates. In a magnanimous gesture for our fledgling enterprise, he agreed to write a three-part series critiquing political fundraising efforts, but with a twist. The entire series was about Republican direct mail—for Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, the Republican Inner Circle and others. Not only were the critiques highly complimentary, but they were also a fascinating primer on how to make political direct mail work.
For 15 or more years, Craver and I dropped off each other’s radar screens until suddenly last summer I received an e-mail from him asking if we would be in San Francisco for the DMA’s annual conference. It turned out that we were both going to be there and we made a dinner date.
Peggy and I met Roger at Kuleto’s, an old-world Italian eatery off Union Square. Its décor included mirrors, lots of dark wood trim, big comfortable banquettes and it boasted “a 40-foot-long, intricately-carved Brunswick bar made in England, which was brought around Cape Horn aboard a clipper ship and survived the 1906 earthquake while installed at the Palace Hotel.”
Roger was unchanged after 15 years—a tad more rotund, but with the same ebullient intensity, the foghorn voice, Terry-Thomas gap between his two front teeth and explosive laugh. We started talking and the years melted away.
Midway through dinner the subject turned politics, whereupon Roger laid on us a breathtaking vision of the 2008 election.
The Nominating Process
It was the notorious 19th century New York City Democratic political boss, William Marcy Tweed, who said, “I don’t care who does the electing as long as I do the nominating.”
By March 9, 2004, John Kerry had locked up the nomination as a result of primaries and caucuses in just 28 states.
Democrats in the other 22 states had no say in the nominating process—just a ‘“yes” or “no” on Election Day.
The Democratic and Republican conventions have become vestigial, Roger pointed out. No longer do delegates convene to choose candidates for president and vice president. The conventions are merely coronation ceremonies, so tedious that the networks have handed the gavel-to-gavel coverage keys over to cable news.
How Howard Dean Tamed the Internet
The idea for Unity08—a third party with a virtual convention that will take place on the Internet—was very likely inspired by Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign for president. From nowhere, the Dean campaign became a vast, loose-knit, viral network of bloggers, contributors and propagandists that briefly propelled the fiery former Vermont governor into the front ranks of Democratic contenders.
For example, in the third quarter of 2003, predominantly small donations to the Dean campaign brought in over $14 million—a record for one quarter in Democratic presidential politics.
On Jan. 20, 2004, Howard Dean placed third in the Iowa caucuses and promptly imploded by giving what became known as his “I have a scream” speech that was repeatedly broadcast across the country, making him look like a nut case.
In the words of Jay Leno: “Howard Dean announced today he will campaign in seven states. The states are Rage, Frenzy, Fury, Wrath, Fever, Agitation, and Delirium. Yeeeeaaaah!”
But the Dean Internet campaign was a wake-up call to the power of the Internet and changed the American political landscape forever.
Unity08 is the brainchild of American political operatives from all parties committed to making government work. They want to gather the tens of millions of moderates that feel disenfranchised by those that have hijacked the national debate with such tangential issues as guns, gay marriage, abortion, creationism and church and state.
Instead, they ask: Shouldn’t government be debating and acting on Iraq, terrorists, immigration, the environment, crime, drugs (legal and illegal), health care, education, homeland security and competent response to national emergencies?
Unity08, the founders promise, will emphatically NOT be a fringe organization under the leadership of a Ross Perot or a Ralph Nader, who accomplished nothing more than to siphon votes away from serious candidates and screw the majority.
Instead, the premise of Unity08 is simple:
* To nominate candidates for president and vice president—that will NOT be members of the same political party
* To make sure that Unity08 candidates are on the ballot of every state and territory.
* To turn the Internet into the most powerful political organization the world has ever seen to get candidates elected and get the country back on track.
The proposed rules have just been published. Every member that signs on and is accepted as a Unity08 member is automatically a delegate to the online convention—to be held in June 2008—and has a vote in the nominating process.
Along with Roger Craver, the founders and members of the Advisory Council include Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Among them:
Mark Cuban, billionaire-owner of the Dallas Mavericks and chairman of HDNet, an HDTV cable network.
Susan Cullman, co-chair, Republican Majority for Choice PAC.
Catherine Dunham, president of the Access Project, a research and advocacy organization devoted to health justice.
Ellen Frauenthal, physician, founder of MD on Call, a unique, first-in-the-nation practice for individuals/families, focused on prevention and treatment; mother of three.
Hamilton Jordan, Carter White House chief of staff, writer, investor.
Angus King, former two-term independent governor of Maine.
Gerald Rafshoon, former media advisor and White House communications director.
George Vradenburg, president of the Vradenburg Foundation and former executive vice president for global and strategic policy at AOL/Time Warner.
Sam Waterston, the Emmy Award-winning lead actor of NBC’s long-running television series, “Law & Order.”
Bill Weld, the Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991-1997, and partner at the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery.
Coming to Your Computer Screen: High Political Drama
* The race money and votes are currently in overdrive—19 months before Election Day 2008.
* A number of candidates will discover that they do not have the fundraising power—roughly an average of $590,000 a day—to stay in the race and will drop out. Others will most certainly do something stupid and implode—à la Howard Dean and George “Macaca” Allen.
* By Feb. 6, the Republic and Democratic candidates for president will be selected as a result of the 25 primaries and caucuses. After a year of hearing them yammer at each other, the electorate and the media should be bored to stupefaction.
* During the following four months, the Unity08 machine will be gearing up as operatives work to register the party in all 50 states and territories, and candidates for president and vice president—Republicans, Democrats and Independents—will emerge, make their positions known and answer questions all via the Internet.
* The Unity08 Web site will be a forum for furious debate, since, for the first time, delegates can weigh in with their ideas and attention will be paid.
* In June 2008, the Unity08 virtual nominating convention will be held online with millions of delegates taking part in the nominating process.
* Gavel-to-gavel coverage will only be available on the Internet. This means cable and network news—as well as newspapers—will be unable to create phony scoops and generate buzz, because their noses will be pressed against computer screens just like the rest of us.
* At convention’s end, a knight—or knightess—will ride onto center stage, electrifying the media and turning what threatened to be yet another lackluster presidential campaign into a real horserace for the four months to Election Day.
It’s a grand time to be alive!