REDMOND, Wash.--Before starting in on her politics, Arianna Huffington wanted to make sure she was in a friendly crowd.
"Are there any Hungarians in the audience? Are there any eggs in the audience?" asked Huffington, editor in chief of the Huffington Post. It was a reference to an incident earlier this week in which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer found himself ducking as a protester in Hungary tossed three eggs at him.
From that point, on, though, the barbs flew between the other two panelists--Hillary Clinton strategist Mark Penn and Republican National Committee eCampaign director Cyrus Krohn.
But what was most striking was their shared experience in discovering the power of the Internet. Penn talked about the "3 a.m. ad" in which Hillary Clinton sparked a huge conversation through an ad asking which candidate voters would rather have getting a late-night phone call about a crisis.
The ad, which was based solely on stock images, was cheap to produce but viewed millions of times, mostly online and at no cost to the campaign.
"You can really generate $50 million, a hundred million (dollars) worth of footage," he said.
Krohn, meanwhile, pointed to the power of the Net in organizing voters. He said that their Internet effort to register voters online has cut the cost of boosting the rolls from $23 per voter to less than $10 per voter. He also pointed to a governor's race in which the RNC was able to get 75 percent turnout from those it was communicating with electronically, compared with 48 percent overall turnout.
The committee also got more than 700,000 people in a 72-hour-period to visit a Valentine's Day e-card site in which visitors could send e-cards with Clinton or Barack Obama's picture and such phrases as "my liberal heart bleeds for you." The RNC also got something in return--e-mail addresses that it could then use as a base for soliciting funds or other marketing.
Next up, Krohn said, a cell phone text-message campaign.