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Garrett Graff describes 'The First Campaign' to go truly digital

How can the 2008 presidential candidates best speak to a tech-savvy, global generation?

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In 1948, embattled incumbent Harry S Truman embarked on a cross-country, whistlestop tour, in a last ditch effort to salvage his stake in the presidential election. The situation was dire. Infighting had decimated the Democratic Party's base, shattering it into a collection of small tent movements; Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond threatened from one direction, and Republican Thomas Dewey from the other. Voters, Truman reasoned, would have to be appealed to directly – palm to palm, and face to face.

As Garrett Graff writes in The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House, Truman, who eventually covered thousands of miles by train, was the last winning candidate to reach – in person – such a wide swath of the electorate. By 52, television had arrived in American homes, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was using "I Like Ike" cartoon shorts and canned "conversations" to bridge the technological divide.

Strategists began to think in terms of infotainment: long policy speeches and public discourse were out, and the age of the horse race was ushered in.

Graff, an editor at Washingtonian magazine, is fascinated by the revolution that took root after 48, mostly because of its similarity to the 2008 election. Like Eisenhower – and later, Nixon and Kennedy – the Democratic and Republican nominees will battle on a new frontier, one rife with opportunity.

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