Ron Brownstein's article on the net's potential to facilitate a successful third-party ticket is going to break the buzz-meter, as it plays on everyone's favorite fantasies. But every few years there's a reason the third-party's will finally prove ascendent, be it Perot's personal funds or the net's ability to raise cash or the increasing similarities between the two major parties (not a view I subscribe to, by the way). But it never works. And Dean is a good example of why.

Dean for America followed the Brownstein strategy almost perfectly. It ran against the establishment and used the net to rake in cash from electrified supporters nationwide. It exploited recently developed online organizing tools to unleash a veritable army of foot-soldiers on unsuspecting towns nationwide, and then on suspecting towns when the Iowa caucus was happening. Entering the primaries it had more money and more volunteers than any other campaign, and by a large margin. But it still lost.

There's a tendency from pundits to view elections as very calculable affairs, with candidates requiring specific and predefined views on the issues, a smattering of personal qualities, a monetary advantage, and a clever organization to reach a guaranteed victory. Therefore, or so the thinking goes, if candidates who're even more charismatic and "right" on the issues could unshackle themselves from the chains of party politics and make up the financial disparity through the net, they could win.

It's harder than all that. Ballot access is insane. Getting yourself into the debates is tough. Convincing Americans you can win is endlessly hard. Withstanding accusations of a "Nader effect" is near impossible, particularly if you have a preference for which side should win if it's not you (and your involvement may hurt them). Matching the preexisting organizations the parties' have is a staggering task. Matching the region-specific help they get from candidates who've run there and politicians who've won there is similarly rough. And on, and on.

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