WASHINGTON: Both major party presidential campaigns are turning to a new form of outreach - steeped in US political tradition but yet uniquely 2004 - to create a sense of intimacy with voters and to turn casual supporters into activists.
On May 22, John Kerry supporters around the country threw "house parties" in honor of the candidate. Friends and neighbors gathered to discuss Kerry's strengths, weaknesses, and the ways they could help raise support - and money - for him locally.
The centerpiece of those parties - 2,000 in all - was a conference call from the senator himself. Any party with 10 or more guests was invited to listen in on the call.
The Bush campaign had a similar day of house parties on April 29, complete with a conference call from Vice President Dick Cheney.
The house parties offer a unique opportunity for candidates to tailor their messages directly to their base in an intimate setting that they bet will inspire supporters to take further action.
"It's all about activism, not persuading [undecided] voters," said John Haber, who took temporary leave from his senior partner post at Fleishman-Hillard earlier this year to serve as a senior PR adviser to former candidate Howard Dean. "What you're really doing is you're activating potential activists, people who otherwise might just talk about the election but not necessarily take further action."
Dean's campaign owed much of its early success to house parties that were arranged by supporters on MeetUp.com. Those events provided the template - and the inspiration - for the current model.
"It's a great way to build a community" Haber added. "When's the last time your neighbor knocked on your door and invited you to a house party? You're there with friends and then you hear from the candidate, as well. It's a real bonding experience."
Both campaigns have plans to hold more such house parties as Election Day nears.