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12/13/2004
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E-mail's Presidential Payoff

If you thought technology played a crucial role in last month's presidential election, that was only the beginning. Politicians have built a permanent onramp between the campaign trail and the information superhighway and will plan future campaigns mindful of what worked (or didn't work) in 2004. The future of campaigning isn't about how much technology a candidate has access to but how he uses that technology to outsmart his opponents.

If you thought technology played a crucial role in last month's presidential election, that was only the beginning. Politicians have built a permanent onramp between the campaign trail and the information superhighway and will plan future campaigns mindful of what worked (or didn't work) in 2004. The future of campaigning isn't about how much technology a candidate has access to but how he uses that technology to outsmart his opponents.The Democrats and Republicans had access to essentially the same technology during the last presidential campaign, and they used it primarily for fundraising and persuasion. While the Republicans chose to use e-mail and the Web to sway opinion, the Democrats used the Web mostly as a tool for raising money. History tells us which the more effective strategy was.

Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry raised about $75 million, or about one-third of his campaign's total contributions, via e-mail solicitations and Web site donations. But his campaign team learned the hard way that fundraising isn't the Web's best or only function in a campaign, says Juan Proano, president of Plus Three LP, a provider of fundraising software used by non-profit organizations and political campaigns. Plus Three was firmly entrenched in the Democrats' camp, providing open-source software used to store and track campaign donors much like customer-relationship management software does for large companies.

"E-mail was the killer app regarding fundraising," he says.

Still, Proano points out that the online component of President Bush's campaign was more about persuasion than fundraising. It's a trend Proano and Plus Three is studying in hopes of being better prepared the next time around. "We need to get better at what we are doing with individuals who are contributing online and figuring out how they can get more involved in the campaign," he says.

In addition to more efficiently reaching the Democratic base and anyone riding the fence, Proano is also hoping to at least triple the number of party e-mail addresses available for solicitation by the next presidential election, up from 5 million this election cycle. When Al Gore ran in 2000, the Democrats had 75,000 e-mail addresses of registered Democrats.

Another challenge for Democrats and Republicans alike is making sure their e-mails are not designated as spam and filtered out by ISPs. "There's no technology solution for keeping our e-mails from being wrongfully directed into a spam folder," Proano says. Instead, the parties must be sure that the e-mails they send are compliant with all regulations specified in the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act.

No small matter when choosing the next leader of the free world. "We learned that data moves these campaigns," Proano says.

Where do you see technology and politics intersecting in the future?

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