In a primary that will shape the future of the 2004 presidential campaign, more than 300,000 MoveOn.org members voted on-line Tuesday and Wednesday to endorse a candidate for the Democratic nomination.
With the Federal Election Commission second quarter fund-raising deadline set for June 30, a Friday morning endorsement may come early enough to affect this quarter’s contribution receipts. Last fall MoveOn members donated $1 million in five days to the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone’s struggling reelection campaign. But MoveOn’s presidential endorsement only will come if a candidate commands a 50 percent majority vote; otherwise the Berkeley-born political advocacy Internet group will carry the process into July.
MoveOn Chief Operating Officer Carrie Olson compared the number of voters who participated in the 48-hour primary to the number of likely voters in the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus combined.
“It is a phenomenal number for a primary and a significant number of passionate folks,” Olson said Thursday. “The grassroots we represent have been the traditional organizers of campaigns in the past—folks who get out and hold meetings, tell their friends, tell their family and acquaintances. They work to get out the vote, and they need to be engaged by all the candidates.”
For candidates such as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, earning MoveOn’s financial support would narrow the margin between their campaigns and the party’s leading fundraisers. Sen. John Edwards and Sen. John Kerry, at $7.4 million and $7 million, led the field in first quarter fundraising, far surpassing Dean at $2.6 million and Lieberman at $3 million.
During the 2002 election cycle, with 500,000 members, the MoveOn.org PAC raised $4.1 million for congressional campaigns. With today’s membership of 1.4 million, the goal for the 2004 elections is $10 million.
The MoveOn endorsement process engendered discontent among some of the candidates, who said recently that MoveOn gave an unfair advantage to Dean, Kerry and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the organization’s leading candidates in an early straw poll. In the week before the primary, the three were allowed to send e-mails introducing their platforms to the on-line political community.
A spokesman for the Dick Gephardt campaign went so far as to insinuate the endorsement process was rigged, according to an Associated Press report. A Washington Post article Wednesday quoted Jennifer Palmieri, a spokesman for the Edwards campaign, addressing the process: “Three candidates were given a head start. It’s like the equivalent of asking all of the candidates to attend a forum in which only three of them are allowed to give opening statements.”
Neither campaign returned phone calls from the Planet on Thursday.
The direct line to membership for the top finishers, however, was part of the endorsement process outlined to the nine candidates before any agreed to participate. And all were invited to answer member-generated questions and write letters, which were then posted on the MoveOn Web site along with links to the candidates’ Web sites, said Olson.
“We went out of our way to make sure all the candidates were equally represented on the site,” said Olson. “To marginalize us and say we’re not honest is disrespectful. We represent our members. The sentiment comes from the bottom up. I am sure the election results will be representative of which candidates are best expressing what our folks feel is important.
“We recognize that any of the nine might be the eventual candidate, and MoveOn will hopefully have the will of its membership behind that nominee, whoever it is.”