Of all the ways the campaign of Barack Obama ran rings around last year’s challengers for the presidency, one of the most inescapable was the way Team Obama exploited the viral potential of the Internet for fundraising and for communicating what the campaign was all about.
Presidential hopefuls Democrat and Republican alike were caught flat-footed by the speed at which the Obama machine made its Web site a veritable ATM for campaign operations, and used that site to express the campaign platform with no danger of spin.
It was an unwritten rule of the 2008 campaign: Democrats and progressives had the online world locked up. A California web design company with unabashed conservative leanings is working hard to change that.
NetBoots, which bills itself as “the first website platform for conservative grassroots action,” clearly hopes to borrow from the success of the Obama fundraising operation. Offering conservative candidates a range of design templates and development services, NetBoots looks ready to help congressional hopefuls flood the political zone of the 2010 campaign with a polished online presence meant to rival that of progressives.
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The company is a part of Terra Eclipse, a political web development and new media strategy firm founded in 1999, and based near Silicon Valley. NetBoots is forthright about its claims and virtues; they begin on the home page:
“The NetBoots suite of web-based features will empower your campaign with the most cutting edge online tools giving your campaign the best chance to achieve victory on election day and beyond.”
“Put on your NetBoots and hit the ground running,” prospective candidates are admonished. And to be clear, that’s a call to certain prospective candidates. NetBoots is pitched as a one-stop shop for conservatives — “built to help conservatives get ahead online,” the site says announcing its suite of services.
NetBoots services have already been used by the 2010 campaigns of Adam Kokesh (running for Congress in the New Mexico 3rd District), Bill Hunt (running for sheriff of Orange Country, Calif.), and Mike Vasovski (seeking the congressional seat in the South Carolina 3rd District).
Much of the NetBoots site’s own typography is a nod to the clear, evocative fonts used on the Obama campaign web site. But the templates the company offers for campaign customization run a wide gamut of styles, with a variety of look-and-feel experiences, from the Republican-customary red-white-&-blue color theme to more modular, contemporary stylings.
Net Boots touts its affordability: “NetBoots packages start at $50 a month.” Powerful, professional content management systems with fundraising tools used to cost $10,000. Not anymore.”
NetBoots also says it supports embedding codes used by YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and other social networking sites, and claims to integrates with a PayPal gateway “to provide an affordable, secure and reliable method to accept all major credit cards as well as PayPal account payments.” There’s someone on the other end of a toll-free help line to hold your hand if needed.
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It’s hard to look at this and not detect a hearty whiff of political defensiveness. Political pragmatism (if not plain old common sense) requires that the Republicans look at what went wrong last year and make efforts to correct it. So it’s laudable that the GOP and its supporters are taking the Internet, its users and its potential seriously — and doing so early enough to make a difference in getting their message across. Someone should have alerted John McCain, The Maverick®, to these possibilities two years ago.
Unfortunately, conservatives have another problem: right now, they’ve really got no message to get across, beyond the reflexive opposition that’s long since stopped looking like principle and begun to look like obstinacy for its own sake. That vacuum, that absence of a widely communicable and believable message won’t be solved by a family of professional-looking Web sites.
NetBoots gets its propers for trying to simplify the tools needed for conservative candidates to get online and have a packaged, presentable Web persona once they get there. Now, between now and 2010, let’s see if the candidates can deliver the message with the same conviction NetBoots is prepared to use to deliver the candidate.