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The Internet As An Election Game Changer?

The Drudge Report, which examines political fare, is among the most visited sites on the Internet. Getty Images hide caption

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The two-way dialogue that Barack Obama's campaign opened up with eligible voters made a difference this election, according to an article at RealClearPolitics.

We all remember the way Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign levied the Internet, albeit briefly, to gain a wave of enthusiastic supporters. President-elect Obama took that strategy and ran away with it.

As Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi said of the Obama campaign's online work: "They were Apollo 11, and we were the Wright Brothers."

This year, the Internet was a force for both recruiting and organizing volunteers and for real-time distribution of political messaging directly to millions of voters. Both campaigns relentlessly used their own Web sites to post videos of campaign appearances and policy addresses, share campaign ads, solicit donations, and roll out policy papers. The Internet became their town center.

For most voters, the Internet has replaced the campaign rally. The Pew Foundation reports that 39 percent of voters have watched a campaign video online; and the Internet is where five million turned for replays of the President-elect's 37-minute race relations speech last March. Until this year, Americans would have been restricted to a 90-second sound bite of that speech on the nightly news. What we have is a new business model for politics in the Internet era.

And, this collaboration between old and new media multiplies the power of both. Among the campaign's most damaging moments was Sara Palin's fumbling interview with Katie Couric on CBS Nightly News. The impact was heightened by voters who watched the video online and shipped it to friends with an e-mail.

With all the advantages of this digital technology comes a price to pay. Newsweek recently reported that hackers had compromised the campaign computer systems of both Barack Obama and John McCain.

In midsummer, the Obama campaign's computers were attacked by a virus. The campaign's tech experts spotted it and took standard precautions, such as putting in a firewall.

The next day, the Obama headquarters had two visitors: from the FBI and the Secret Service. "You have a problem way bigger than what you understand," said an FBI agent. "You have been compromised, and a serious amount of files have been loaded off your system."

The security firm retained by the Obama campaign was finally able to remove the virus. The Obama team was told that its system had been hacked by a "foreign entity." The official would not say which "foreign entity," but indicated that U.S. intelligence believed that both campaigns had been the target of political espionage by some country—or foreign organization—that wanted to look at the evolution of the Obama and McCain camps on policy issues, information that might be useful in any negotiations with a future Obama or McCain administration. There was no suggestion that terrorists were involved; technical experts hired by the Obama campaign speculated that the hackers were Russian or Chinese.

What was your on-line experience like during Election 2008? Do you follow Barack Obama on Twitter? Are you Facebook friends with Ron Paul? Honestly, how many times did you watch Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin on Hulu? Leave us a comment below!

And just for fun, here's a look back at Bill Clinton and Bob Dole's innocent-looking 1996 campaign Web sites. Maybe those Russian hackers will enjoy Elizabeth Dole's cookie recipe.