McCain Continues E-Politics

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John McCain may have ended his Republican presidential bid in March, but he hasn't ended his Internet politicking: The Arizona senator has converted the e-mail list he compiled during his failed presidential campaign into a list for his post-campaign political committee.


McCain's campaign list of more than 140,000 supporters and donors has been receiving regular messages since last month from Straight Talk America PAC, McCain's newly formed political action committee.


These e-mails, which have updated campaign supporters on McCain's activities on campaign finance reform, have also urged supporters to visit the new Straight Talk site at www.straighttalkamerica.com.


Creating a political action committee in the aftermath of a failed campaign is fairly standard practice for politicians with future aspirations. But observers say McCain's move -- rolling a presidential campaign Web database into an online PAC database -- is unprecedented.


While it is a first-time move, two political veterans believe it won't be unusual for long.


"It makes perfect sense for any candidate with a future in politics to do this," said Anil Mammen, president of Mammen, Pritchard & Associates, Washington, a political consulting firm that specializes in voter contact mail. "McCain has spent months and months building this highly valuable list of supporters," Mammen said. "Why throw it away? You wouldn't throw away a valuable direct mail list."


Phil Noble, president of PoliticsOnline Inc., Charleston, SC, agreed that McCain's strategy is an obvious move. Noble expects that following the November elections, when candidates will have generated large and valuable e-mail lists, many others will follow McCain's lead and will create PAC e-mail lists.


Max Fose, a McCain consultant who manages Internet operations for the Straight Talk PAC, said the goal of the Straight Talk Internet operation is to parlay momentum generated during the campaign into sustained support for McCain's reform agenda.


"After the campaign ended, we received a ton of e-mail from people who wanted to know what they could do to carry out the reform agenda," Fose said, who also managed the Internet operations for McCain's presidential campaign. "We knew we wanted to give these people a way of staying involved."


The Internet, which played a major role in McCain's campaign, was an obvious solution, Fose said. "It's a cheap, fast, efficient way of keeping people informed," he said.


Although the primary goal of the Straight Talk e-mail list and Web site is simply to keep supporters abreast of McCain's ongoing campaign and legislative activities, McCain also hopes the Straight Talk site will become an effective fundraising tool. Online donors contributed $6.4 million to McCain during the campaign, constituting a sizable percentage of total contributions. "We know we have an extremely valuable list of supporters," Fose said.


But at this point there are no specific plans for testing direct e-mail solicitations to the list, he said. Nor are there specific plans to put the list up for rent, or to use the list to support any of the six congressional candidates endorsed in the Team McCain section of the Straight Talk site.


Fose speculated that later in the campaign, McCain could send a message to his list endorsing a candidate or urging supporters to contribute at a candidate's Web site.


Fose said all messages to the list would be about McCain or would come from the senator. The PAC has already declined several requests from candidates interested in renting the list. Mammen called McCain's decision to maintain contact with his campaign supporters through his PAC e-mail list "a very smart direct marketing move."


In effect, Mammen said, McCain is using Internet tools in the service of a tried-and-true political direct mail strategy -- post-election cultivation.


By using the Internet to thank supporters for their involvement in his campaign, and to keep them engaged in his ongoing campaign activities, McCain is smartly cultivating his base. "He's maintaining a valuable relationship at a very small cost," Mammen said.


And, as a result of the senator's cultivation efforts, Mammen said that if McCain chooses to campaign for president in 2004 or lobbies for passage of legislation, he'll be well-positioned to mobilize and solicit his supporters.


"He'll certainly have a leg up over other Republican primary candidates," Mammen said.
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