Melanson Speaks: Udall’s Campaign Chief on the Netroots

There are two kinds of politicos — hyperactive and profane with an itchy trigger finger eager to unleash the hounds of hell on their opponents.

On the other side of the spectrum are the smooth operators. Skillful, strategic, and damn near serene in their ability to manuever the frequent molotov cocktails lobbed by the aforementioned foes.

It’s a fascinating study in human dynamics that can be more influential on the political process than the candidates they work for. Colorado Confidential caught up with Mike Melanson, long time Democratic Party operative and campaign manager for Rep. Mark Udall’s senatorial bid, to ask the netroots’ favorite question — techonology: bane or boon? CC: Why did you attend the YearlyKos netroots convention?
MM: It’s clear over the past election cycle that the blogger community has grown and it’s influence has grown. I was talking to a reporter in the mainstream media a year ago and they said ‘Oh no no, I look at that stuff but it doesn’t influence me.’

Well now I’ve been meeting with reporters over the last six weeks or so, and every single one of them admits now that it is a place where they go to get information. So clearly there is an importance to the community. It’s an area that I honestly don’t understand completely. I mean, I get it, but I wanted to come here and put some faces to the names of people I’ve heard about and get an education.

CC: What kinds of campaign strategies are you employing in terms of using the netroots or doing online outreach?
MM: We’re very much in the early phases of the campaign. In fact, we’re really trying to keep the campaign at a slow burn. Save the money. Focus solely on fundraising.

But an area that we are doing a lot is revamping our Web site. Bringing in consultants and individuals who have worked on other campaigns that were successful with online outreach in general at an early stage so that as we’re developing our finance plan we’ve also got an online finance plan in conjunction with that. It’s also linked to what our online outreach and our online communications is going to be.

Early on, one of our consultants told me that if the campaign manager makes this a priority than the rest of the staff will get it and will follow along. So I’ve really kind of taken that to heart. Whereas again as I’ve said, this is still a learning curve for me. I’m still not putting all the pieces together but I’m not worried about that. I just want to get the talent together and make sure that what we’re doing in the Internet world is in conjunction with what we’re doing in the physical world.

CC: Sometimes there is a gap where campaigns get very enamored with whizzy techonology but you’ve got a fair number of people in Colorado who are not online and not wired. Some folks in the rural areas are still on dial-up if they can even get Internet service. What other methods are you guys employing to reach out to those communities?
MM: Absolutely, we’re still going to do a traditional campaign. A lot of that will probably be run in conjunction with the coordinated campaign.

What we’re doing early on is to make a priority, that when Mark is back in the state, to get him out particularly into those rural communities.

The bottom line is he is a Congressman and  he’s going to have to go vote. We saw last year in the Ritter-Beauprez race that Beauprez wasn’t nearly as present as Bill Ritter was able to do because he had to be back in Congress and take care of the people’s business. And I know that’s what’s going to be an issue for Mark too.

We’re starting conscientously early on to make sure that we’re physically in those rural communities that are less likely to be connected. But, at the same time, I’m not convinced that they’re not either. Certainly there are some that are on dial-up but if we can find folks that are there and bring them into our field organization. But we’ll obviously use email and the Internet as a communication tool to these folks who they know ‘well I’ve got X percentage within my community that I either need to still call or go visit’ or whatever the case may be.

CC: Is the Blackberry