Putting political buzz in the palm of your hand

John
John Gushue
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Once in a while, you experience one of those little moments that explain to you how clearly the world is changing.

On the night of Aug. 21, we were in a cabin in Gros Morne National Park, relaxing after a great day of exploring and fun. At that point, however, we were, like millions of others, watching television, waiting for news to break about Barack Obama's vice-presidential choice.

Surf's up - Once in a while, you experience one of those little moments that explain to you how clearly the world is changing.

On the night of Aug. 21, we were in a cabin in Gros Morne National Park, relaxing after a great day of exploring and fun. At that point, however, we were, like millions of others, watching television, waiting for news to break about Barack Obama's vice-presidential choice.

If you'll recall, Obama had revealed he had made his choice, and was curiously holding tight to a promise the news would go out not by a news release, but by a text message sent out to anyone who wanted it. About three million signed up for it. This is where the world-shifting part comes in, by the way. We were watching Larry King that night, as the CNN host was, basically, filling airtime amid speculation that Obama would identify Joe Biden as his running mate. He did, of course, but no one knew that.

Eventually, the campaign let it be known that the instant message would go out overnight. "Late night would be silly," said a somewhat put-off King, speaking with CNN's political correspondent Candy Crowley.

"You don't make the morning press."

Morning press? And this from the symbol of cable news, the medium that essentially toppled newspapers as the kingpin, no pun intended, of journalistic clout in the 1980s?

Anyway, King went on. "Who's around at midnight?" he complained.

Crowley, to her credit, stayed professional, and on point. "You'd be surprised how many young people are up working their phones," she said.

Yep, Larry King would be surprised how many young people were working their phones. And older folks, too.

How Obama made his choice turned out to be a whole lot more interesting than the choice itself. (Small wonder Sarah Palin completely overshadowed Biden a short week later.)

If nothing else, it showed how the Obama campaign embraced, and exploited, new technology, with the rest of the world taking notice.

Politicians have been using the Internet for several cycles now, with increasing sophistication. Sure, some campaigns, particularly at the local level, don't get much more elevated than the obligatory Facebook group.

This fall, a few things are clear: how the parties use the web and related technologies are in another level than before.

On the Canadian side, the Conservatives clearly have an advantage. But in the U.S., it's a very different story, and the Democrats have dazzled in leapfrog-style jumps in technology use. Indeed, what the Obama campaign has achieved, with databases that marry millions of micro-specific details to a stunningly successful fundraising campaign, is the envy of political rivals.

Leslie Sanchez, a Republican consultant, put it this way in a recent commentary: "Obama has taken the voter identification process to lengths nobody could have anticipated just four years ago."

In this climate, it's obvious for Obama to look at text-messaging - already a primary means of communications for younger adults - as a key campaign tool. It was also an easy hit for Obama and others to slag McCain as out of touch; after all, when McCain admitted he doesn't use e-mail or computers, he didn't appear to realize how stunningly weird that sounded to most of the world ... even some of his greatest admirers.

Elsewhere this week

There are plenty of sites on politics; here are a few I'm using to watch the U.S. campaign. I'll have some thoughts on the Canadian race in an upcoming column.

FactCheck.org

www.factcheck.org/

How truthful are political ads and claims? Not very, at least some of the time. This is a must-use resource, published by the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center.

FiveThirtyEight.com

www.fivethirtyeight.com/

The title of this site is about the number of seats in the Electoral College, which determines the presidency; a very important number, you'll recall, in 2000. It's a fascinating and transparent glimpse at the political math this year.

Political Tracker

politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/

I check CNN's political blog at least once a day. It's updated many more times than that, with contributions from numerous writers, ranging from tips on breaking news to thoughtful analyses of the campaigns and issues.

Polling Report

www.pollingreport.com/

I always tread carefully with opinion polls, although I'll admit to finding them fascinating. Polling Report may be cluttered with ads, but it brings together a vast amount of polling data.

Real Clear Politics

www.realclearpolitics.com/

One-stop shopping for political news junkies, with aggregated news and commentary from all over the place.

John Gushue is a news writer for CBCNews.ca in St. John's. E-mail: surf@thetelegram.com. Read past Surf's Up columns and daily updates at his blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: Electoral College, CNN, Conservatives Democrats Annenberg Public Policy Center

Geographic location: Gros Morne National Park, U.S., St. John's

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