Ron Paul, The Bomb On The Internet

If there's anybody who doubts the importance of the Internet in the 2008 elections, a quick explanation of how Rep. Ron Paul came from nowhere to build support and collect millions of dollars online should change that. At this week's Politics Online Conference, we listened to Paul's E-campaign director, Justine Lam, who methodically spelled out how her operation worked its magic.

First, she said, the candidate's antiwar, old-school Goldwater message was something a segment of GOP voters wanted to hear. And they came to him and to his website in droves. But being low on funds and staff, Paul didn't try to capture them all on his site like other campaigns, notably the Barack Obama effort. Instead, Paul's campaign urged supporters to build their own support sites, networks, and groups. Lam's message to supporters: "Do what you think is best for the campaign." It worked. "This sort of set the groundwork," said Lam.

Dozens of networks, like Meet-Ups, formed, and the campaign moved then to use those groups to help raise funds for Paul. The campaign's idea: start a contest for which group could raise the most, with the victor getting a Paul visit. The result: A shocking $500,000 rolled in.

Realizing only big groups would win, the campaign then started online challenges like fill-the-quill, which sought 1787 donations on the anniversary of the day the Constitution was signed. These challeneges helped to raise his record amounts. "People got energized to fill the quills," Lam said. She described how the campaign skeptically thought it could raise $500,000 but $2 million rolled in, in part because the net-roots groups backing Paul started talking to and challenging one another.

Eventually, so many donors wanted to play that a new game, the Ron Paul Money Bomb, was introduced, in which donors would dump a big bomb of money on the campaign on one day. As a result, Paul's big donations became part of the GOP nomination story in the mainstream press, which helped to further energize his backers and drive even more money to his campaign, Lam said.

By Paul Bedard