In what is shaping up to be the most expensive year in California election history, the Internet could be the great equalizer.
PG&E has thrown $35 million in its effort to pass Proposition 16, the ballot measure that would force cities to get a 2/3 vote before purchasing renewable energy.
With no bankroll of their own, consumer groups are striking back with a spirited campaign on YouTube (see video below), which gets play in the mainstream media as a novel approach to stretching thin resources. In fact, it's the only way opponents can get the word out to offset the clout of the corporate utility behemoth.
Consumer groups are not alone. In his effort to counter huge self-funded campaign efforts by Republican Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, Democrat Jerry Brown has taken to the Internet too. He announced his candidacy on the Web.
So too did Lieutenant Governor candidate and fellow Democrat Gavin Newsom, hoping to reach a growing group of potential voters who have not been tapped well otherwise.
Here, too, the idea is to use social media, replete with Facebook friends and other outreach efforts, to compensate for the lack of financial depth. These candidates, along with a slew of others, are also using the Internet as a fund raising magnet.
Barack Obama set the precedent of turning social media into both free publicity and campaign dollars in 2007 and 2008, during his presidential campaign. It worked. While Hilary Clinton was spending money on television, Barack Obama was Linking In.
Exactly how successful the Internet play will be in 2010 remains to be seen. Still, one fact is clear: The platforms for communicating are multiplying, opening the opportunity for campaigns to leverage their financial resources in ways that they weren't able to in the past. TV ads are not about to go the way of park rallies, but they are seeing greater competition in Internet space.
Not only is that good for the candidates, but it's greater assurance that their messages are getting out.