One hazard of running a Web-based, "people-powered" presidential campaign is that when you stumble, you can count on being flooded with insta-advice from each of your digital disciples. Howard Dean, probably to his chagrin, is realizing that now.
Since Dean's second-place finish in New Hampshire, Blog for America, the campaign's official blog, has been bombarded with more than 3,000 comments from supporters, many offering what they seem to believe are novel, killer campaign strategies. What, according to these people, is the main thing that Howard Dean can do to revitalize his campaign? Run better commercials. Dean's problem is not that he appears too angry, or that voters have a hard time believing he can beat George Bush. Instead, "the only thing wrong with this campaign is that the ads suck," wrote on supporter. Others called the ads, variously, too amateurish, too professional, too negative, too positive, too boring, and too lacking in celebrity endorsers. Some supporters even posted scripts for new ads. One has Dean debating George W. Bush, "Bush looking chimpy..."; another features this bit of camera direction: "dark, black and white shot of Kerry; fade to crying school children..."
Can this kind of thing really help a presidential campaign? Although it's hard to imagine that someone at Dean for America is actually poring through the comments on the blog in search of a way to halt his campaign's slide, Dean's people have always assured supporters that the campaign is uniquely attentive to its grassroots base. So when Joe Trippi -- Dean's campaign manager and the founder of the political ad agency that produced Dean's commercials -- announced his resignation on Wednesday afternoon, some supporters wondered whether they had actually made a difference. "I guess they heard all the complaints people have been making here on the Blog about those ads," a supporter wrote.
In the late afternoon, Trippi, who is credited with pioneering Dean's Internet strategy and is sometimes treated like a demi-god by the bloggers, posted a short goodbye message on Dean's blog. "I may be out of the campaign but I'm not out of the fight. Don't give up -- stay with Howard Dean's cause to change America," he wrote. In response, hundreds of people toasted Trippi's achievements. "Most of us would have never found this incredible candidate without your inspiration and perspiration," one said. "We have faith in his campaign because you brought us into direct, personal contact with his stance on the issues via the internet. Without your contribution, this campaign would not be where it is today." Many, though, added that there was at least a silver lining to his departure. One wrote: "To new campaign manager -- WE NEED NEW AND BETTER ADS." Sure, that's all they need.