MoveOn and more on how the internet is changing politics

Tonight MoveOn attempts a rather remarkable thing - a virtual townhall meeting with the Democratic Presidential candidates.   You can participate or learn more at www.moveon.org.

Additionally, the Boston Globe's Rick Klein has a must read piece on the meaning of the Democratic Presidential candidates huge 1st quarter fundraising advantage. It starts:

WASHINGTON -- Democrats appear to have erased the decades-long Republican edge in campaign fund-raising, building a network of well-off donors that rivals that of the GOP -- and that recently has generated more cash.

In dwarfing the sums raised by Republicans in the first three months of this year, Democratic presidential candidates capitalized on growing support from upper-income professionals. While higher-earning households overwhelmingly favored Republicans as recently as the start of President Bush's first term, the gap has narrowed to 4 percentage points among voters with annual household incomes of more than $100,000, according to the Pew Research Center's latest polls.

Democrats' recent fund-raising success challenges the traditional assumption of the Republican Party enjoying a reliable financial advantage -- and points to the outlines of a new Democratic coalition that could change the nation's political dynamics in 2008 and beyond, according to campaign finance specialists.

"It's a whole new world," said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who was a top adviser to Vice President Al Gore, who was out spent by more than $65 million by Bush in the 2000 election. "To call it revolutionary is not a stretch. It is a game-changer."

The shift leaves Democrats confident that for the foreseeable future they will be able to compete dollar-for-dollar with Republicans, after decades of expecting to be outspent. By reaching a new crop of contributors -- largely through the Internet -- Democrats have tapped into a potentially powerful army of higher-income and better-educated voters who are increasingly aligning themselves with Democratic values, according to polls and demographic data.

As recently as 2002, 45 percent of voters with annual household incomes of more than $100,000 identified themselves as Republicans, while just 28 percent said they were Democrats, Pew polls found. But Pew's 2007 polling shows that gap closing to a 33-29 GOP advantage, with most former Republicans now calling themselves independents.

Just as working-class voters have been drawn to the GOP because of the party's emphasis on traditional values, many higher-income, higher-educated voters who once favored Republicans over tax policy have been moving toward the Democrats because of more liberal stands on social issues and a more internationalist perspective on foreign policy.

Those trends powered voting shifts toward Democrats in the suburbs in last year's congressional elections, where widespread dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and the Bush administration gave Democrats control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years.

"We're going through a period of transformational change," said Alan Solomont , a veteran Boston-based Democratic fund-raiser who is working on the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. "Business folks -- not ideologues, but entrepreneurs, new economy workers, venture capitalists -- are [looking at Republicans and] saying, 'This is not how I want my government represented around the world.' "

Throughout recent history, Republicans have been able to count on greater financial resources than Democrats, with an immense fund-raising operation that relied on big business and wealthy individual backers. Many observers predicted that the gap would grow wider in the wake of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform act, since Democrats had long relied on labor unions' unlimited "soft money" donations, which the 2002 law banned.

But Democrat John F. Kerry surpassed fund-raising expectations in his 2004 presidential campaign, bringing in $253.9 million, just $38 million less than President Bush, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Democrats built on that trend in last year's mid-term congressional elections, with the party's House and Senate campaign committees pulling to within $7 million of their Republican counterparts.

In the first three months of this year, Democratic presidential candidates blew past Republicans, raising a total of $78 million compared to only $52 million for Republicans. Two Democrats -- Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton of New York -- surpassed $25 million apiece; the leading Republican fund-raiser -- former governor Mitt Romney -- hauled in $23 million.

"Clearly we've had more success with people who named themselves independents and moderate Republicans," said Hassan Nemazee , a New York-based fund-raiser for Clinton and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "We're able to pick into areas where we haven't been able to in the past."

On one level, the tremendous amount of cash flowing to Democrats is a measure of Democratic excitement about 2008. Energy translates into campaign dollars, particularly with online tools making political donations the equivalent of civic activism.

While much credit is given to the Democrats' extensive efforts to use the Internet to raise money, no fund-raising tool can be effective unless potential donors have the resources to give to a party or cause. There, Democrats are encountering a political landscape that is vastly different than it was just two years ago, when some conservatives boasted of building a permanent Republican majority in the United States...