Independent Sites Leaven the Debate

Above are fourteen sites unconnected with the presidential campaigns that have appeared between early 2001 and the end of March 2003, arranged roughly in the order in which they first appeared on the web.  Several are now inactive.  [E-mail Interviews includes additional sites; your suggestions welcome]. 

Citizens take the initiative, launch web sites supporting or opposing the 2004 candidates.
[Posted March 28, 2003] Official campaign web sites provide limited, generally positive information on the candidate.  Also on the web are myriad sites created by individuals or by a small interested groups of citizens on their own initiative to support or oppose particular candidates.1

Independent sites range from static pages that are little more than online flyers to weblogs that are updated daily or near daily.  On more developed sites, articles and video are regularly posted or linked to.  Some sites are further enhanced with degrees of interactivity; they feature active discussion and encourage participation and submissions by interested people, leading to the formation of online communities of interest.  Independent sites may be the handiwork of one individual or a core group of individuals.  For most of the sites examined, the creators are politically attuned or have previous political experience.  Some of the sites solicit contributions or offer merchandise, and in some cases the individuals have taken the step of formally organizing a committee.  Several of the sites are part of broader communications efforts.

Among the sites examined, four were created to draft candidates (Kucinich, McKinney, Gore, and Nader).  Other pro-candidate sites include a couple of Gore sites, the DeanBlog, and the Students for Edwards and Students for Dean sites.  Examples of critical sites include the no-frills site, "Gov. Howard Dean: A Satire," and the parody site.

Of the active Democratic candidates, former Gov. Howard Dean has thus far inspired the greatest interest among Internet activists.  Sen. John Edwards' candidacy has also prompted a fair amount of activity2, although these efforts have not been as intense and focused as those of Dean' supporters.  Sen. Joe Lieberman's candidacy led a couple of critics to launch the first parody site found this cycle.  Other top-tier candidates, including Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Dick Gephardt, do not as of yet appear to have triggered any independent web initiatives; what this says about their candidacies remains to be seen.

Long before Howard Dean's presidential campaign began, in October 1998, Vermonter Lawrence Auclair launched the generally critical "Gov. Howard Dean: A Satire" site featuring regular links to news articles.  He continues to update the site.   In September 2002, Aziz Poonawalla created the DeanBlog, writing, "Howard Dean may be the most interesting candidate in 2004.  This blog is intended as a resource for people who want to learn more about him and his bid for the presidency."  Several others joined Poonawalla in overseeing the site, and the group effort, with its frequent postings and abundant links, has set a high standard at this stage of the campaign.  Auclair dubbed the site "The Dean Fan Club," but the DeanBlog is having a concrete impact.  Poonawalla stated, "This blog is the purest expression of the principles of free speech and democracy that I have ever been involved with."  Anna Brosovic, one of the small group running the DeanBlog, related the following:

"I got to speak with Howard over the phone at a Dallas area fundraiser. When I introduced myself and mentioned the site, he asked "Are you the folks who keep sending people to our site to make donations?" When I answered yes he said, "I love you guys! You're great!"
Dean has taken full advantage of the site.  Through this free service, groups of people with like interests, everything from Italian speakers to Chihuahua lovers, are able to come together in actual, not virtual, monthly meetings in cities around America and also internationally.  Dean himself attended a Meetup at the Essex Club in Manhattan on March 5, 2003 that attracted over 500 people.  At the end of March the home page of Dean's official website included the Meetup icon linking to the Dean Meetup page.

There is yet more web activity from Dean supporters.  The Dean for Texas web site, launched March 5, 2003, is a concise, action-oriented site created to provide "immediate lists of things they [people] could do to help, from minor involvement to major leadership, and the resources, information, and tools to get them going immediately."  A bit later in March, Mark Whitney, an 18 year old freshman studying political science at American University in Washington, DC launched the Students for Dean site.  Whitney stated, "He [Dean] is reaching out to an entire group of people (of which I am a party) that has been ignored by the political establishment for the past 40 years."  Soon after launch Whitney's site had links to students at half a dozen campuses around the country.

Independent websites leaven the debate and continue the tradition of political discussion that dates back to colonial times when pamphlets circulated and men met in clubs and taverns to talk about the events of the day.  However the unofficial websites are more than just a places for information and discussion; the energy and know-how of cyberspace activists is out there for web-savvy candidates to tap into.  Of the 2004 candidates, Howard Dean has thus far done the most to reach out to this community and his campaign has benefited as a result.

1. A couple of useful books on this subject are:
David M. Anderson and Michael Cornfield, eds.  Oct. 2002.  THE CIVIC WEB: Online Politics and Democratic Values.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Steve Davis, Larry Elin and Grant Reeher, eds. Sept. 2002.  CLICK ON DEMOCRACY: The Internets's Power to Change Political Apathy into Civic Action.  Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

2. In addition to the Students for Edwards site shown below, other Edwards sites include: Americans for Edwards 2004 ( run by Oliver Willis, a 25-year old writer living in Boston, who also runs the Oliver Willis blog; and Regular People for Edwards (

[E-mail interviews]   ...Gov. Howard Dean, A Satire
Vermonter Lawrence Auclair is the editor of "Gov. Howard Dean, A Satire."  The first entries on his site are from October 1998 and he has continued to build it to this day, adding regular summaries of and links to news articles on Dean.  The perspective is immediately clear from the top banner, which states "Vermont's Glibbest, Most Annoying Politician Wants to Be Your President, or maybe Vice President."    [Image: April 2002]
On February 19, 2001 Janet Hessert, an activist from California started the "" website ("the Internet's largest community of Al Gore supporters"), "dedicated to re-electing Al Gore President of the United States in 2004."  The site, updated regularly, lauded Gore as "an extreme rarity in national politics: a man of principle, who ran his campaign on the issues, as well as accepting campaign spending limits and refusing PAC money..." [Image: April 2002]
Dan Richman, a web developer in Charlotte, NC put up in the first quarter of 2001.  This site, critical of Edwards, carries a banner that reads, "Senator John Edwards: abusing his constituents in North Carolina."  A subheading warned, "He talks like a centrist but votes like Ted Kennedy;" this was later changed to "Serving his own bald pursuit of power, not the voters of North Carolina.", updated very infrequently, listed a few of Edwards' votes as "examples of Senator Edwards's failure to represent the people of North Carolina" and had links to a handful of news articles. [Image: April 2002]
In Fall 2001, Dylan Malone, the Everett, Washington father of Ian Malone, an infant whose story Gore took an interest in and who figured in the 2000 campaign, finished work on his Baby Ian site.  Malone stated (4/22/02 e-mail) that he "surveyed the smattering of Gore 2004 sites on the web and felt that is was time to begin a larger scale project with message boards, email services, a news service, newsletters, games, virtual greeting cards, etc."  He and some other webmasters formed the Gore News Network (GNN).  In April 2002, the site (above) merged into the Malone site to form ("The grassroots site dedicated to re-electing Al Gore").   Malone stated, "I've been very lucky to have several talented people step forward and work tirelessly with me on this project--all completely volunteers--we have no payroll."  "The site's visitors provide all the energy that makes things happen on," Malone said.  He also formed a committee, The People, Not The Powerful, to raise money for the site.  "I see our mission as building the largest, most energized and organized community of concerned citizens on the Internet," Malone said.  [Image: April 2002]
Mike Swickey of Oklahoma City created the Draft Kucinich site which stayed up until Kucinich announced in February 2003.  Swickey also runs, described as "a site of politics and all things progressive."  Swickey has considerable political experience; at age 12 he worked on Sen. George McGovern's campaign in Oklahoma City.  He writes extensively about his political philosophy on the site, stating, "The two-party duopoly of the Democrats and Republicans is undemocratic -- and has failed the people miserably."  He states he is "a proud Independent Progressive."  Swickey writes, "I believe the only way we can 'return the government to the people' is to join together with progressive, consumer and anti-corporate organizations who are fighting for serious electoral reform."  He describes Kucinich as a personal hero.     [Image: Feb. 2003]
Mike Swickey is actually a conservative; in a March 21, 2005 e-mail he wrote to correct the record:

"I am a privacy consultant in Oklahoma City and an old political enemy thought it would be cute to run this Kucinich site under my name. He hacked my site and changed my "About Mike" page and ran the draftkucinich site using my name! All of this happened for quite some time before I even knew this was going on. I actually found out about this quite sometime ago when someone called and told me that they had read an Associated Press story about the Kucinich site and it had quotes, ostensibly, from me! It was not me and was all a big practical joke. The site was, in fact, a true "Draft Kucinich" site. The only thing amiss was the name of the person doing the pushing of Kucinich. He claimed to be me, said he was a privacy consultant in Oklahoma City and, well, let's just say it was a pretty clever trick. One that has actually proved to be quite useful to me in my talks on social engineering and ID theft. I address various security and privacy groups and use my experience as an example of "ID theft" that was used for purposes other than financial gain. Much of the information this individual obtained, he got by using clever social engineering with my ISP, web hosting service, among other things."  ...the DeanBlog
"Howard Dean may be the most interesting candidate in 2004. This blog is intended as a resource for people who want to learn more about him and his bid for the presidency."  Aziz Hatim Poonawalla, then 28 years old and a graduate student in MRI Physics at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, initiated the site in September 2002.  Anna Brosovic and Jerome Armstrong, bloggers like Poonawalla, joined in soon thereafter.  Dean critic Lawrence Auclair has dubbed this site "The Dean Fan Club."  However, with its frequent postings and abundant links, the DeanBlog has set a high standard at this stage of the campaign.  [Image: Feb. 2003]
"This site is meant to be a focus of the efforts to draft Cynthia McKinney for Green Party Presidential candidate."  The site went up on October 15, 2002 and is the handiwork of Steve Herrick.  Active in the Green Party, Herrick is an editor/designer formerly of Ann Arbor, Michigan, but living in Managua, Nicaragua.  Although he was in Nicaragua, he remained on a half-dozen Green e-mail lists, including two in Michigan.  He stated in a February 3 e-mail, "A self-organized group of us had been discussing how to promote the idea of Cynthia for Green Party candidate, and I volunteered to put up a website.  So far, it seems to be one of our more successful ventures, though it's never mentioned in articles about her and us. It does well on Google, though..."    [Image: Feb. 2003]
This site was put together by David Kowalski, a political science major at Yale University.  In a note on the site he states that he "has closely followed Edwards' career since the spring of 2001, and began the process of creating this site in November 2002."
Among the interesting features of this site: issues section with "Why All Students Should Support Edwards" essay.  There is also a link to Students for Edwards store, selling items such as apparel, mugs and such.  [Image: Feb. 2003]
The site went up January 27, 2003.  The site was written and designed by Nick Jehlen, a political activist and art director of The Progressive magazine. Additional programming was done by Matthew Howard.  In a February 3 e-mail, Jehlen wrote:

"The site has only been up for a week, but it's had thousands of visitors so far and we're hoping to keep updating every week. Lieberman isn't necessarily the most obvious target for satire, but I find his moral superiority complex mixed with his questionable ethics on issues like expensing stock options, military spending and the death penalty really hard to swallow, and from the response so far, there's a lot of people out there thinking the same thing."

An interesting feature of this site is its close resemblance to the official Lieberman site. Whereas the Lieberman site proclaims on its opening page, "The American Dream isn't just a story..." the parody site begins, "My American Dream is a fairy tale..."  In addition to having some fun (there is an elaborate and slow-loading set of steps on how to fold an origami-style donkey out of a dollar bill) this site does make serious policy criticisms.  For example, on the question of expensing stock options there is a link to the PBS Frontline program "Bigger than Enron."   [Images: Feb. 2003]

The official Lieberman site.
"We are grassroots Democrats from coast to coast who believe Al Gore is the only Democrat who can represent us in what may be one of the most crucial elections in American history.  We are asking him to reconsider his decision and run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004."  The Draft Gore 2004 Committee, an independent PAC, started organizing soon after Gore announced that he would not run in 2004.  Monica Friedlander, an editor from Oakland, Calif., chaired the effort and Rebecca Knight of Cookville, Tenn. served as treasurer.  [Image: March. 2003]
The Nader 2004 Draft Committee, chaired by entrepreneur Brian Crawford, launched this site in early March 2003.  Joshua English (simpalife digital design) created the site, which had an annoying tendency to lock up on Netscape.  [Image: March. 2003]
The mission statement of the Iowa Presidential Watch PAC is: "To hold the Democrat presidential candidates accountable for their comments and allegations against President George W. Bush, to produce materials to make Iowans aware of any false statements or claims by the Democrat candidates, and most especially, to defend the record of the Bush Administration and to 'set the record straight' when the Democrats make false or misleading statements about the Bush-Republican record."  The PAC is supported by leading Iowa Republicans and is making a serious effort to raise contributions.  The website was launched in late February 2003.  Beneath its lighthearted portrayal of the Democratic "wannabees" as "wrascally wabbits," this is an information-rich site.
This site officially went up on March 5, 2003.  Webmaster Marcus Sanford wrote, "Our emphasis on the site was basically that we knew people coming there would already be sold on Dean... what they needed were immediate lists of things they could do to help, from minor involvement to major leadership, and the resources, information, and tools to get them going immediately. We hope that within ten minutes of going to the site, an interested person has signed up in the capacity they wish to participate, and started to either read or download materials to distribute, i.e. petitions, fliers, etc."      [Image: March. 2003]
Michael Whitney, an 18-year-old freshman studying political science at American University in Washington, DC developed the site March 2003.  In a March 11, 2003 e-mail, Whitney wrote, "He [Dean] is reaching out to an entire group of people (of which I am a part) that has been ignored by the political establishment for the past 40 years.  Many students are very impressed with Governor Dean, and Students for Dean is designed to network Dean supporters across the country so that when the time comes, we can show America that we cannot be ignored."   [Image: March. 2003]

From the Archives: An example from the 2000 Republican primaries, a page by Stan Krute in support of John McCain:


Copyright © 2003  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.