MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Every presidential campaign now wants a crack Internet team. But for the candidates without much media buzz, it's essential. Take Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, a Democrat polling in the low single digits. He's often ignored by TV, so his campaign created an online Dodd TV network, where you can watch the senator and his staff around the clock.
As part of our series on people behind the scenes in the campaigns, NPR's Robert Smith visits Senator Dodd's Internet guru.
ROBERT SMITH: It's hard to describe the thrill of working on a campaign Internet team, but luckily you can watch it for yourself. The folks at the Chris Dodd headquarters have a daily Web broadcast where you can watch them sitting there, hunched over computers and typing. Perhaps you caught the exciting episode where a radio reporter arrived to talk to the guy in the backwards baseball cap.
SMITH: So if they wanted to, people around the world could tell when you go to lunch?
Mr. TIM TAGARIS (Internet Director): They could tell that we're working hard or hardly working. But no lunch. No lunch for us. No lunch.
SMITH: Tim Tagaris looks like he just walked in from a softball game - the beat-up baseball cap, shorts and a T-shirt. But at 31-years-old, Tagaris is what passes for an Internet campaign veteran. There's no formal training to be an Internet director. In fact, before he joined up with his first congressional campaign in 2004, Tagaris was working in a bar. His job?
Mr. TAGARIS: Bouncer.
SMITH: You were a bouncer?
Mr. TAGARIS: Uh-huh. I wouldn't laugh because, like, I'm not small. I'm not that small. And I was a Marine.
SMITH: Did you ever have to throw people out of the bar?
Mr. TAGARIS: Of course.
SMITH: Now, Tagaris' job is to muscle people in to the campaign via the Web site. On this day, Tagaris is waiting for a live video feed of Senator Dodd in Iowa. Just about every word the Senator utters in the campaign is broadcasted live on the Dodd TV channel on the Web site.
I was taking the podium.
Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): Well, listen. I thank all of you for coming out and welcoming us here. We've had a great day crossing the state of Iowa, started out early this morning.
Mr. TAGARIS: It's a way for people to feel like they are travelling with the senator and that they are with the campaign. And it's a way for them to be connected in a very, very real fashion that, really, no other campaign has come close to touching this cycle.
SMITH: Sometimes, only a few people are watching Dodd TV. Other times, like after debates, the live audience may number in the hundreds. But among the viewers are certainly the other presidential campaigns.
Mr. TAGARIS: You know, we just happened to be doing first what other ones is going to be doing in the future.
SMITH: The Internet sites of the candidates have developed their own sort of personalities. Hillary Clinton's Web site is like the kid sitting in the front of the class. It's professional and has all the answers to every question. Barack Obama's site is more for the popular kids. You can sign up with social groups, and get invited to a lot of events and parties. The Christopher Dodd website isn't slick. It's more like the brainy kids making jokes in the back of the room.
For instance, when Dodd went on the "Daily Show," they snuck in a video camera so you could see Dodd and Jon Stewart talking backstage about their families.
Mr. JON STEWART (Host, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"): You got younger ones than I do.
Sen. DODD: How old are they?
Mr. STEWART: Two and five.
Unidentified Woman: One just turned two months.
Sen. DODD: (Unintelligible) two and a half and one.
SMITH: And when it looked like Senator Dodd wasn't getting his fair share of time at the debates, Tagaris started something called the talk clock. During every debate, you can watch a real time graph of how long each candidate has been allowed to speak.
Mr. TAGARIS: This year, with all the emphasis on celebrity candidates and money just getting in, there are a lot of serious issues going on out there. And this gave us a very real way to track and measure the debate happening about them.
SMITH: Is there literally someone here with a stopwatch?
Mr. TAGARIS: There are people that keep track of the amount of time, and someone will call it out and someone will then put it and that will be that.
SMITH: And yes, you can watch the debate team on the Internet as they watch the debate. Sure, it's not very revealing video, just as Tagaris is clearly uncomfortable speaking about himself into a microphone. Most of the time, he says, the goal of an Internet team is to be invisible, the conduit between the candidate and the voters.
Mr. TAGARIS: Give them the tools, get out of the way and give them as many opportunities as you can to kind of convert people into Chris Dodd's supporters.
SMITH: The online tricks that they've come up with, Tagaris predicts, will be easily copied by the other campaigns. All the Internet directors know each other and keep tabs of each other's sites. With all these live video, they can even watch each other work.
Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.
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