In his victory speech following the Tennessee and Virginia primaries, Senator John Kerry exhorted his supporters to "go to johnkerry.com and share your ideas." Candidate websites, as Howard Dean famously showed, can be a crucial avenue for galvanizing supporters and raising money. But the "share your ideas" link has its drawbacks too. Along with cheerleading, it gives an outlet for supporters to air their gripes about the candidate. That, in turn, can offer a one-stop shop for both critics and reporters looking for signs of trouble in the campaign. One Kerry watcher last week posted this: "Please stop repeating, after a short pause, the first few words of every other sentence in your speechs [sic]. It is very irritating." Wrote another: "Just a few thoughts, since you asked. First, the wife has to look interested and engage the audience."
Dean's blog came back to bite him after Iowa. Usually filled with notes praising the candidate, the site was suddenly jammed with Deaniacs openly worrying about his "dinosauric yells." On Edwards' website, supporters are often more candid than the upbeat candidate himself. "It is hard to watch the JRE campaign continuing to spin these second-place finishes," wrote one. "We need to WIN." Nor is there any way to be sure that these comments are coming from actual supporters. They could as easily be posted by opponents trying to sow discontent.
President Bush's campaign, at least, may be avoiding the problem. Its new website, georgewbush.com allows campaign staff and selected volunteers to post messages, talking about how hard they are working to re-elect the President. But, as of yet, there's no place for the general public to weigh in.
--By Perry Bacon and Viveca Novak